Jeff Nichols’ third film has the timeless coming-of-age feel of a classic YA adaptation, the kind of book you were forced to read (and then watch) as part of the school curriculum, that years later you find yourself looking back on as an important part of your adolescence.
In this rugged fable, Ellis (The Tree of Life’s Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find themselves in way over their heads as they try to help an enigmatic and superstitious fugitive (Matthew McConaughey).
Mud tangibly establishes its contained riverbed surroundings, but more importantly lets us feel the blossoming perspective that comes with adolescence. It is a world-shaking shock to learn that there are expiration dates and complexities to love and life, and that the world of adults is a selfish and complex place. In these respects Mud succeeds in showing the dangers of a young boy risking all for what he believes to be long-lost love. We watch as Ellis slowly finds his feet in the sticky self-centeredness of human emotion. Tye Sheridan, a child actor who we can only hope has a big career ahead of him, anchors himself admirably within the experiences of Ellis, which are universal yet intimate. There’s also an appreciative childhood familiarity to the way the riverbeds and crunchy woods are shot by Adam Stone, with Nichols’ Arkansas background once again serving him well.
Once Mud settles into its intriguing hook of a story, it hits a predictable stride, becoming somewhat disengaged when it asks us to become invested in anything outside Ellis’ immediate orbit. Ellis’ interactions with his father (Ray McKinnon), Neckbone, and especially the title character are all deftly absorbing, but it loses itself a bit as it starts to get weighed down with plotting in the latter half. And the women are all inconvenient problem-causers offered no perspective of their own, representative of that outdated lesson that if you give a woman your heart, disloyalty and heartbreak lie ahead. What Mud is trying to get across is genuinely heartfelt, but it’s a bit too generalized as a women-weary cautionary tale.
Most of all, Mud feels faithfully borne out of the mind and experiences of Ellis and made with boys his age in mind. Hollywood rarely thinks about the malleable minds within teenage demographics; from a money-making perspective it’s all about asking what teenage boys want to see, not what will ring true or spark their minds. Yet here comes a film made for young boys, used to being endlessly served with robots, aliens and raunchiness, that has the potential to engage and resonate with them, avoiding condescension and feeling truthful to their experience.
Originally posted on Vérité: http://www.veritefilmmag.com/