Plot Summary: A couple of 14 year old boys find a boat stuck in a tree on a nearby island. They find a man living there and decide to help him both reunite with his girlfriend and make his escape from the law.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Key Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland.
Five Point Summary:
1. The Deep South looks awesome.
2. How many times do they have to drop the S-bomb?
3. Living on a river has it’s good and bad points.
4. Has everybody suffered from bad relationships in the past or something?
5. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Mud is a film all about relationships. It’s chock full of them. New ones, old ones, those that bond families together, the works. Most of these revolve around Ellis, a fourteen year old boy living on the river with his parents. They’re all going through a tough time, as Mum wants to move into the town and Dad wants to stay on the river. Ellis’ best friend is Neckbone, a boy around the same age as Ellis who lives with his uncle, played by Michael Shannon.
The story sees Neckbone taking Ellis to an island where there is a boat randomly stuck in a tree. There they meet Mud, a man with no name and nothing he can rely on other than a gun and the shirt on his back. Again, this hints at Biblical subtext with the boat being a scaled down version of Noah’s Ark which, once repaired, will help him escape from the tides that are threatening to sweep him away. It’s a new beginning.
From this point, the boys help Mud repair the boat, acquiring parts and supplies to make the boat seaworthy and, more importantly, get it down from the tree. This is interspersed with Ellis’ first steps into the world of dating and dealing with women, where his standard response is to punch other guys in the face. Without wanting to give too much away, his ‘girlfriend’ May Pearl reinforces the opinion, set into Ellis by his father, that women will only let him down.
It’s a rare thing when child actors don’t irritate me, so that’s one of many things that director Jeff Nichols got right. The performances from Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are spot on, with both inhabiting the roles almost perfectly. Neckbone, no doubt due to his upbringing, drops S-bombs with reckless abandon, yet you feel that all of his bolshiness is just a front covering for the fact he’s had a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing. It’s no help to him that his uncle is dysfunctional himself, fishing for oysters, living in a trailer, and offending women with his bedroom interests.
Ellis is no better; whilst he’s grown up with his parents, their growing disparity has left him with a somewhat twisted world view – he’s told on multiple occasions by different characters that women are snakes, that they will twist your words and your own self to the point that you don’t recognise who you are. Throw in a literal pool of snakes and we’re talking an obvious Biblical metaphor/simile, which is no surprise given the American Deep South setting.
McConaughy is similarly excellent as the titular Mud, whose relationship with the boys, with his love interest Juniper, and with ex-sharpshooter now river living old grump Tom, remains vague until the final third. He’s an enigma until then, described as a compulsive liar and living in his own world. He’s the very definition of grey.
Juniper, played ably by Reese Witherspoon, is another shade of grey, with our perception of her coloured by Mud’s loved-up appraisal of her and the counter-argument of old Tom who, rather handily, calls her a snake. But then he also says Mud is a compulsive liar, so is he really the best person to listen to? Tom may be Mud’s father, or he may not, but he fills the father figure role for him perfectly. Pay attention to his backstory, as that will come into play before the credits roll at the end.
There’s a lot more that’s bubbling under the surface, but to go into any greater detail would spoil your enjoyment of the film. Suffice to say, Mud’s in a fair bit of trouble with the authorities and a snake-like guy who’s trying to hunt him down. The movie’s final act is combustive, but not a “Hollywood” ending. I would go so far as to argue that the finale and where the characters end up is indicative of how real life actually is. Thankfully the script stayed true to its routes and we’re left with a thoroughly fantastic film.
That was quite a serious review, wasn’t it? I’ll try and include some funnies next time. Badgers.
Favourite scene: Mud saving Ellis after he’s bitten by a snake.
Quote: “This river brings a lot of trash down, you gotta know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go.”
Silly Moment: Not silly per se, but when Ellis and Neckbone first visit Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, the implications of what Galen wanted to do with the girl who storms out are most amusing.