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Film Review: Mud

It’s a Treat …


Reviewed by Old School Critic


Mud :Directed by Jeff Nichols. With Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard

In a season of special effects laden blockbusters like Star Trek, Iron Man 3, Oblivion, and whatever sequel Fast and Furious is up to, it was  time for me to watch a plot and character driven Indy film, if only to give my senses a break. That said, I have to admit that I went to see Mud partly because it features two actors who are always fun to look at: Reese Witherspoon and Mathew McConaughey. But a chipped-toothed, unshaven, mud-covered McConaughey and a tired, bedraggled, lost Witherspoon were both so removed from their glamorous personas of other films that they were hardly recognizable.

Now ordinarily I’m not a fan of movies about uneducated, backwoods southerners and their uncouth, albeit sometimes curious ways. I was more intrigued by the preview of  Joss Whedon’s upcoming Much Ado About Nothing, which I watched while waiting for the feature, than I was by my anticipation of another southern trailer-trash slice of life, which is what I expected Mud to be.

Mud had all the grit that its title suggested it might have. There were southern kingpins and bullies, played by Joe Don Baker and Paul Sparks, respectively.  But it wasn’t a picture of the prosaic, dingy side of life that sometimes emerges from caricatures of the south. In fact, other than the bad guys, nobody was a caricature. And Mathew McConaughey was a total surprise. McConaughey’s southern drawl was still there and it fit his character like a pair of kid gloves. McConaughey’s character, Mud, as he is named, is a competent innocent, living in hiding on an island in the Mississippi River, trying to refloat a boat which has been stranded in the treetops  by a previous flood, while waiting to reunite with Witherspoon, his true love since he was 13 years old. He is also wanted for murder and is being sought by a band of bounty hunters in the pay of the father (Joe Don Baker) of the man he killed because that man had abused Witherspoon.

Competent innocence also describes Ellis, the 14 year old main character in the film, played by Tye Sheridan. Ellis’ parents are getting divorced and he will lose not only his family, but his life on the river where he helps his father with his fishing business. Ellis is determined to fight for true, unending love,  which he sees slipping away from his parents. He defends and professes love for May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), the older high school girl of his dreams. And he falls hook, line and sinker for Mud’s tale of a life of faithful love to Juniper, the Reese Witherspoon character.  Ellis’ sidekick, Neckbone, played by Jacob Lofland, is less carried away by Mud’s romanticism and maintains a cynical wise-cracking skepticism, that only gradually breaks down as the movie progresses and meanwhile adds a touch of humor to the dialogue.

The film is really about the vagaries of love and the difficulty of retaining a belief in its sacredness and purity in the face of all of the evidence to the contrary. Mud’s entire life, devoted to the constant pursuit of the peripatetic Juniper, who uses his devotion to her to manipulate him while wistfully wishing that his knight on shining armor approach to her, which has led to repeated episodes of rescuing her from abusive relationships, had more substance. But Mud, although he seems to be good at solving almost any kind of problem, is a hopeless romantic dreamer who has never put together a coherent life. Ellis desperately wants to believe in the love between Mud and Juniper. He also wants to believe that he and May Pearl are in love, despite blatant evidence that she is only mildly interested in him and mostly because he, with his romantic notions and his own heroic defense of her with an abusive older boy, is an oddity. Underneath all of his wishing, he knows his parents are moving apart.

Although none of the relationships survives, love does triumph in Mud. May Pearl deserts Ellis but Mud risks his life to save the boy. Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), a retired army sharpshooter (or CIA assassin, we are never sure which), who raised Mud, gives up his settled retired life to rescue Mud and join him in his escape. And, despite the dissolution of their marriage, both of Ellis’ parents come together to express their love for him and his strong relationship with his inarticulate fisherman father ( played beautifully by Ray McKinnon) persists with both Ellis and his father professing their  love for one another.

Mud is a riveting film that kept me engaged at every turn. There is romance and violence in it, but no spectacular special effects and no overt sex. Instead, it is riveting because of the performances, particularly those of Sheridan and McConaughey, which give their characters more genuineness than we are used to in movies. It is a wonderful film.


Old School Critic is an anonymous reviewer who describes him or herself as an avid reader of Lost Coast Review and an equally avid moviegoer, who occasionally provides a film review when the editor approaches him for one in desperation.


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