Let me just begin by saying Mud has the most heart I've seen in any movie this year. It's incredible that a story that is mostly based on characters talking and interacting, a story that unfolds so slowly and patiently on the screen, can be so gripping and affecting. But this is what Jeff Nichols does. His last film, Take Shelter, was also a slow-paced, very character driven tale. And while both films have many elements in common and I give a slight edge to Take Shelter, Mud is still among the best movies I've seen this year.
14 year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on a makeshift houseboat on the
banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson)
and Senior (Ray McKinnon). He sneaks out to meet his
best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Neckbone, also 14, lives with his
uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving
for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River,
where Neckbone has discovered an unusual boat, suspended high
in the trees.
climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh
footprints. Realizing that they are not the only ones who have
discovered the treehouse boat, they decide to leave. When they reach the
shore, they find the same footprint in their boat. And that's when they
meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey).
Now this could be a point where a lot of different stories begin, depending on who Mud is. But soon it turns out that Mud is essentially a sap. A sap with a very bad temper and obsessive love for a beauty named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Juniper was badly beaten by her lover, which lead to her losing a child and Mud killed that guy in revenge. Now bounty hunters are looking for him and he is hiding, hoping to soon reunite with Juniper and escape with her.
The more pragmatic Neckbone is not impressed with Mud. But Ellis? Ellis' attitude toward Mud is a different story. Ellis is a romantic who believes that if you love someone, everything will always be perfect. He is such a romantic in fact, that not even his parents' collapsing marriage can make him feel differently about love. So when he hears Mud's story, Mud immediately becomes a hero and a role model in young boy's eyes and Ellis is prepared to do everything to help him.
What makes the movie so great to watch are the characters and the bonds that keep them together. Ellis is not your typical innocent boy protagonist. He has actual personality and that to me was new. Whenever I see a movie and a young kid is a main hero he is always cute and innocent. Ellis is those things too, but you can also see what kind of a man he is going to be in the future.
He is basically a young version of Mud. He has a quick temper and when he sees a girl being disrespected he immediately punches the bully and rescues her. Even when Juniper is being threatened by a large, armed man, Ellis comes to her rescue despite not standing a chance in a fight. As admirable as him protecting the women is, temper like that will get you in trouble as Mud's story shows.
The side plot of the story includes Ellis pursuit after a girl called May Pearl. May Pearl is clearly an immature twit that should do some soul searching if she wants to ever has a little thing called personality but Ellis is still taken with her. His relationship with her is probably a lot like how Mud's relationship with Juniper started.
And that's another thing that makes the movie so brilliant - we have two characters, different ages, different circumstances, different girls that stole their heart. But in spite of all those differences they are also on the similar road, yet in the end they choose different paths. Ellis eventually finds out that love is not perfect but, as he did so in young age, he still has desire to look for it in the end.
Mud on the other hand is a more complex case. He spent more than 20 years lusting after a girl who used him and only cared about him when there was no one else more interesting. Mud kept going back, because probably, much like Ellis, he kept convincing himself that this is what love is and that love is eternal. The final shot of the movie gave me hope that Mud will let go and that his new love will be freedom. And freedom doesn't ask for anything back.
I was very impressed by the way the film showed us all those characters. With the exception of immature May Pearl nobody was really a bad person here and May Pearl's stupidity and cruelty can be blamed on her age. The guys who are looking for Mud want justice for someone who was close to them and died and Juniper is so used to having Mud around to protect her, she doesn't know how to let go nor she can just escape with him to live in some Utopian dream.
You really cannot blame this girl for using Mud. Everyone wants to be loved and protected and because Juniper was so used to Mud running to help her, she has tears in her eyes once she realizes it's over and she is now on her own. But I also saw a bit of happiness there - joy that Mud finally grew up and joy in the face of the unknown road that lies ahead before her.
Mud is a good guy and because his love for Juniper wasn't reciprocated, he was the one giving all the love, getting all the pain and not receiving the true love himself - the kind of love that makes you put someone's happiness first, over your own. Juniper was fond of him but she didn' give him that and she didn't give him happiness he was willing to give her. But can we really blame her? Love is not something you can control. And that is what makes it so special. We can't control when we are being born and we can't control who we love. Life and love are so amazing precisely because of that.
I read a strange criticism about the movie - that actresses don't have much to do here and the film should have had stronger female characters. I completely disagree. The story is told from male perspective but the lives of men in this movie completely revolve around those beautiful, strange female creatures. The men we see in the movie suffer for them, suffer because of them and they continue to do so because they want to be with them. Juniper is a weak woman who was lucky enough Mud fell for her, but she is shown as a good natured albeit lost person. Ellis's mother on the other hand is a strong female character who is brave enough to stand up for herself and admit that she wants her life to change.
Mud also shows a very close group that lives near the river - everyone knows everyone in the small town and it's a very sheltered community. Trust is the most important thing there. I liked how instead of portraying those simple people like some sort of crazed red necks (I'm looking at you Beasts of the Southern Wild) Mud showed them in such a positive light.
Yes, they are simple folks but they are good people and that is what matters. They care about raising their kids right, they care about their friends, they care about love and family. And when one of them is in trouble, they stand together.
I was very impressed with the cast of this one - everyone did an amazing job, even if their parts were small. It was so nice to see Sarah Paulson who is so excellent playing strong women with both of their feet firmly on the ground. And it was a real treat seeing Michael Shannon play a normal person, a real sweet guy too.
Sam Shephard and Matthew McConaughey are both stand outs but they have the show stolen from them by young Tye Sheridan who did an amazing job as Ellis. There is only a handful of actors who are this young yet they have this radiating maturity about them - it's like they are old souls and they seem to understand much more than they should at their age.
The film is beautifully shot and while watching it I truly felt as if I was right there, surrounded by nature, trees, sand, with the boys in the bar observing Juniper or in your typical motel, staring into the space. Everything is shot so beautifully, in such a detailed way it really makes you feel as if you were inside the world shown in the film. But the most praise belongs to composer David Wingo for yet again adding an overwhelming amount of beauty and rhythm to Nichols's picture with his outstanding soundtrack.
Mud is a beautiful story centered around the idea of love. Its beautiful message, hidden in the film's ending, that the true love can be found in freedom and friendship is as truthful, charming and poignant as pretty much the whole movie. Go see it, it will warm your heart.
Mud (2012, 130 min)
Plot: Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland