I am trying something new here. I will write two reviews for the same film; the first will be spoiler free and the second won’t necessarily be filled with spoilers but there may be certain details you may not want to hear.
First Review- Spoiler Free
Mud tells of a man named, well… Mud. One day two young boys on a mission of exploration of the rivers and islands that surround them arrive at an island they aren’t supposed to set foot on. They had heard that during a major flood a boat had been thrown on the island. As they explore they meet a man that looks as if he is living there. As they get to know him they learn that he is waiting there for his girlfriend. When she gets there Mud plans on taking her away from the past that resides in the town nearby. But with bounty hunters after Mud their escape will be near impossible. If the two boys, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively) , agree to help Mud the plan just may work out.
The boys know that Mud has a dark history but his connection with the boys is strong and they put their trust in him in spite of everyone around them saying that Mud is nothing more than a liar. They refuse to believe this and help Mud make his attempt to freedom. The bounty hunters are closing in and it’s only a matter of time until Mud’s luck runs out. Mud knows his life is in the hands of these boys and takes on an almost fatherly role as he feels responsible for putting them in danger. Is he being honest with the boys? The danger closing in just may be greater than they had anticipated.
With great direction from Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) and Matthew McConaughey leading a stellar cast of both familiar faces and new ones, Mud, even with its odd sounding title, brings a tale to life in the same vein as Huckleberry Fin. This is certainly one of McConaughey’s strongest performances as a man misunderstood by the outside world who discovers two boys willing to look passed all of that and see a good honest man with only love in his heart.
Second Review- Possible Spoilers Ahead!
I had heard briefly about this film a few months ago and thought if done right it could be decent but the room for failure was high. I am so glad that it worked out as well it did. As a big advocate of the R rating the PG-13 rating this received worried me, but thankfully it wasn’t hurt by this and was allowed to really shine. The story is strong; the characters are flawed and vivid with strong actors playing them. I know there is a certain window a film must fall in if it is to be nominated for an Oscar and I certainly hope this falls in. I think an Oscar for McConaughey is in order as well as a supporting nomination for Tye Sheridan who plays Ellis, the boy who helps Mud in his greatest time of need.
Summertime is a special moment in a kid’s life, it feels as if the whole world has just been opened and you have a ticket to explore it. No more school to get in the way of your imagination. Ellis and Neckbone are best friends with a boat and no adult supervision to hold them back from getting into some trouble, and they certainly find some. One day much like any other day, Ellis and Neckbone set out to find a boat that had been washed ashore during a major flood. They arrive and start searching and eventually find it far inland and stuck in a tree. The way they see it this is their boat, they found it and no one can take it. Once on the boat they find items on board that suggest they aren’t the first to find this treasure. Concerned, they leave the damaged vessel and head back to their original boat that brought them. As Neckbone starts pushing the boat out he notices Ellis looking intently at the ground and asks what he’s looking at. It’s at this moment Neckbone notices footprints leading to and away from the boat and the prints were not left by them. A sudden shock washes over them as they spot the culprit off in the distance.
Although afraid, their curiosity gets the better of them and they approach the stranger. He seems harmless enough just standing, fishing and smoking. After an exchange of small talk this stranger walks off and leaves the boys with the invitation to follow along. They do so and find out this guy may look like a bum but his purpose for being here is more complicated than just being homeless. Mud, as he calls himself, tells the boys he is there waiting for his girlfriend to arrive so they can run away together. Ellis being a romantic at heart offers to help Mud get in touch with his girlfriend. Mud then tells them the complications keep on rising as Mud isn’t simply waiting, he’s hiding out. Not only are state troopers looking for him, bounty hunters with a score to settle are out for his neck as well.
At some point in Mud’s past, a man had beaten Mud’s then pregnant girlfriend and threw her down a flight of stairs causing her to lose the baby. Some things just can’t be forgiven and so Mud shot this man to death, he deserved it. The brother of this man that Mud killed is a bounty hunter and gathers together a team to hunt Mud down and kill him. So, Mud is wanted for murder by the state troopers and is facing essentially a death squad that aims to even the score. Faced with all this opposition Mud can’t simply saunter into town and pick up his girlfriend. The bounty hunters know that Mud will not leave his love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and so they watch her every move in hopes of finding the fugitive. It is for these reasons that he asks the boys to help him by finding parts to repair the wrecked ship so Mud can make his way to freedom by slipping down the Mississippi River. They strike a deal and make their way home to start salvaging for parts.
What Mud doesn’t know is that Ellis’s life is more complicated that it seems as well. Ellis knows his parents have problems but when he comes home one night to learn of their impending divorce the news is far too much for him to accept. Naturally he is angry and so he spends any free time with Mud not wanting to deal with family drama. It isn’t long before Mud takes on a sort of father role with the two boys, specifically Ellis, giving them advice on life. Looking to anyone that is willing to listen to them, the boys soak up every bit of advice Mud has to give. It is through their difficulties that a bond is formed even with danger very nearby. Very quickly the balance between helping Mud and dealing with home life starts to culminate into a giant cluster of bad times. On one hand Ellis faces the inevitable separation of his parents and on the other he faces bad men that have no problem hurting a kid to get to their target. Reason says to back away quickly but Ellis sees Mud as a friend in need. In a short period of time Ellis learns that love is a far more caustic thing than he realized, it takes effort and even then it doesn’t always work. He sees a strain in his parent’s relationship and a strain in Mud and Juniper’s relationship. He starts to questions things he once put so much trust in. Maybe even as adults people still don’t quite understand life and how to really love the ones they bring close. Life is a lot more difficult than just finding a boat up in a tree.
Mud features a stellar cast with excellent direction. The characters are vivid and in depth. They are by no means perfect and it’s for this reason that they really seem to come alive. An excellent script usually evokes an excellent film, not always but sometimes. A drama about life and a bond that brings strangers together is an excellent medium for film. Say hello to the second Oscar contender this year. (The first was The Place Beyond the Pines).
Rated PG-13 for: some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking
Runtime: 130 minutes
After Credits Scene: None
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon
Directed By: Jeff Nichols
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4.5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 4/ Visuals: 3.5
OVERALL: 4.5 Nerdskulls