Film: “Mud”; Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon; Director: Jeff Nichols; Rating: ***
“You can’t trust love,” his disgruntled father Senior (Ray McKinnon) once warns 14 year old Ellis (Tye Shridan) making him hook on to every emotional straw he can lay his hands on.
“Mud” is a powerful multilayered story of love, friendship and loyalties inspired by the director’s favourite author Mark Twain. It is a thought-provoking drama set at the precipice of adulthood, where harsh realities seep in and replace the utopia of innocence.
The film centres around a fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), and his relationship with two young boys – Ellis and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who stumble upon his hiding place on a small island on the Mississippi River.
Set in the backdrop of a small community that lives on a riverbank, the film begins on a suspense note with Ellis escaping from home when his parents Senior and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) are having a discussion about the family’s future. As an escape route to his trying times, he ropes in his best friend Neckbone, an orphan who is brought up by an uncle, and wanders off in a motorboat to an island downstream Mississippi River.
On the island they spot a boat that is mysteriously perched on the top branches of a tree. On investigating, they realise that the boat is inhabited by Mud.
Both boys get fascinated by Mud’s appearance inclusive of the pistol tucked in the back of his trousers and his request for food. Being emotional, Ellis extends his hand of friendship to Mud, whereas a sceptical Neckbone tags along Ellis’ decision only to support him as a friend.
Soon, the boys learn that the police are looking for Mud. Intrigued, both the boys confront Mud who reveals his horrific past.
Mud with a matter of fact tone states that anything bad he’s done in this life, he’s done for love. And that “anything for love” is something Ellis fantasises about and he goes to various lengths to help this kind, ragged stranger.
But over a period of time, Mud’s complicated story causes Ellis to question his morality for the first time. He eventually learns that the world is filled with characters not rock solid, but with feet of clay.
The casting is pretty perfect right down the line. A filthy Matthew McConaughey accomplishes to portray the qualities of the complicated guy Mud, who is madly in love with his on and off girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and kind to the two boys. His tattooed body and rugged look adds to the charm and sleaze of the mysterious and sympathetic persona of Mud.
But it is Tye Sheridan as Ellis who steals the show. He is very good in projecting his illusions, painfully broken often. The impressive Jacob Lofland, who debuts as Neckbone, makes a perfect pal for Ellis.
Witherspoon’s character is a little sketchy and so she doesn’t have quite enough to do as the love of Mud’s life. Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s uncle has a slightly humorous role as an oddball oysterman.
Sam Shepard as Tom Blankenship, a recluse living on the river across from Ellis and his family. His character becomes pivotal when we learn that Tom has a past relationship with Mud.
What adds to the charm of the film is the cinematography. The smooth pans and tilts of the camera capture dreamlike images like a boat perched on a tree, a ghostly white shirt waving its arms underwater and the long shot of the island.
While director Nichols’ writing and direction impress, the pace of the film may be too slow for some. The dialogues that flow naturally are inspiring and loaded with meaning, but unfortunately some of the gems are lost due to mumbling and strong accent.
Nevertheless with its rich depth and engaging style, “Mud” is a work of art which you wouldn’t want to miss.