Two teenage boys in Arkansas leave with their boat for a day and travel all the way to a little island on a lake. On the island, they find another boat, curiously stuck in a tree, and they want it as their hangout spot. But then they discover that a man has been living it in. This mysterious man says he is waiting for people to meet him on the island, but if these boys can bring him some food, he’ll give them back the tree-boat.
Mud offers a beautiful atmospheric portrayal of countryside US. The cinematography is great, with lingering shots of lakes and trees, and a soft electronic music shows the calm rhythms of the lands. It’s a place of brooding relations, aimlessness and mysterious incidents. We see it all through the eyes of the boys, who are themselves stuck in troubled families. When the mysterious stranger arrives who calls himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey), he offers the boys a tantalizing mystery and a goal for them to attach themselves to.
Mud is the third film by director Jeff Nichols, who has made a name for himself for his portrayals of small-town America in the Mid-West, often starring Michael Shannon. He already booked success with Take Shelter (2011). His films are generally beautiful and the adventures he chooses to tell always take place within the small, almost claustrophobic limits of families and communities. His later film Midnight Special (2016) had the same mood to it.
Mud, the guy, you get the impression that he is full of bullshit. He spins tales and is overly spiritual about things. The tale moves slowly. Nicholls takes the time to create a rapport between Mud and the boys, fueled by the boys’ family problems and the deeper connection they find with the open, talkative Mud. But when the boys discover that Mud’s past isn’t all that clean, their connection with him is already too strong for them to just walk away. A whole world of complicated, grown-up stuff soon envelops them.
The casting is really perfect. McConaughey has a drawl in his voice and a down-to-earth swagger in him that makes him sympathetic. And the two boy actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, are doing a really good job. Since so much of the film depends on these two actors and their connection with Mud, their efforts have to carry the whole thing. And they’re really making a name for themselves here. Can you imagine if the boy actors were bad? It would destroy the entire premise of the movie. Tye went on to play in X-Men: Apocalypse and Jacob in The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, so this movie jumpstarted their careers.
Mud turns into a very touching story about love, trust and revenge. It throws the two kids into the deep end of the mysterious ways of love between people, about friendships, first love, parenthood, betrayal and every way people make things complicated between themselves. It’s especially touching how the fairy tales that often inhabit our minds in our early teenage years don’t survive growing up. Some of the stories in this film end well, and others don’t.
This is a really good film. A very unique story about growing up and believing in things. Jeff Nichols is one of the best directors working today and Mud is one of his best. See it if you’re in the mood for a slower-paced atmospheric film full of mystery.