Directed by Jeff Nichols
Two boys find a fugitive hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River and form a pact to help him reunite with his lover and escape.
See more films
★★★★ review by adrianbalboa on Letterboxd
what ever happened to matthew mcconaughey he had like 3 really good years starting in 2012 and then peaced out and probably lives in the woods somewhere like in this movie. i bet he uses his oscar to kill small animals in the bayou
★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
With his third feature, writer-director Jeff Nichols, announces himself as one of the great American directors of his generation delivering a heartfelt and evocative coming-of-age drama about love and loss. Set in the backwater estuaries of Arkansas, Mud is the story of two adolescent friends - Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) - and their relationship with the titular Mud, a drifter and fugitive washed in on the bayou tide. Discovering a kindred spirit they agree to help this stranger in need and reunite him with his girlfriend.
Mud, much like the eponymous character, is wrapped up in the shaggy-dog mythology of the Mississippi. It’s a Southern fable rich in character and texture - a story born from the murky waters and shabby huts that litter the riverbanks. It’s a film steeped in the Mark Twain tradition of adolescence, adventure and Southern tall tales. Nichols adds to this lore delivering a story about love and friendship set in a world in transition.
Told from the perspective of Ellis - the film’s true protagonist - he, much like the people around him, is on the threshold of change. His parents are separating, his riverside home is under threat and he is experiencing the painful joys of first love. On a remote island he and his best friend discover Mud, a man who is all sweat, dirt and stories. He is also a figure that reflects the boys’ own feelings and fears. He is charismatic, adrift from society, hot blooded and a hopeless romantic.
Matthew McConaughey continues his resurgence as a credible actor delivering a fantastic performance as the titular man-on-the-run. Tanned, tatty and tattooed he is a character who can’t help but embellish the truth weaving facts with tall tales and Southern superstitions. He’s a mesmerising and magnetic presence and it is easy to see why the two impressionable teenagers would be drawn to him and his story of doomed romance.
Yet as great as McConaughey is it is a film that rests on the slender shoulders of Sheridan. He delivers an assured and heartfelt performance that belies his age and inexperience. He is a boy full of optimism, love and confusion. Sheridan’s performance, coupled with Nichols’ wonderful script, beautifully captures the agonies and delights of adolescence helping make the story universal, like all the best coming-of-age yarns should be. Although it is a film that belongs to Sheridan and McConaughey, the whole cast are note-perfect with excellent support from Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon and Nichols regular, Michael Shannon.
The location, beautifully lensed by Adam Stone, is as much a character as the flawed people that call it their home. From the labyrinth of rivers to the grimy roadside motels, the film has a wonderful authenticity and sensory quality. You feel the heat, dirt and grease in every scene and there is a palpable sense of simply being in the moment that is such a rare achievement in film. Every location, be it the island Mud is trapped on or the snake-filled estuaries that surround it, are rich in symbolic meaning and mirror the story that slowly unfolds around it.
For all the film’s many qualities it isn’t perfect. Despite being from Ellis’ perspective the film occasionally breaks with this illusion which shatters the crucial subjectivity of the piece. There are also a series of plot manipulations in the final act that undermine the tone and sensitivity of what went before it. In many ways these imperfections only reflect the flaws inherent in the characters and whilst there is a neatness to the denouement it only serves to reinforce the film’s fairy-tale atmosphere.
Mud is a beguiling film of deceptive power. With an evocative and tangible atmosphere, nuanced performances and a rich story, Nichols has honoured the storytelling tradition of the American South whilst adding to its magical-realist mythology. Stunning.
★★★★ review by Mary Conti on Letterboxd
Instead of talking about the story and script of Mud (barring some minor issues, it's damn good), or the acting (The Matthew McConaughey renaissance proves to be one of the best comebacks of recent memory), I'd like to focus on the thing that I found made Mud so very special: Texture
What do I mean when I say "texture"? Well, you ever watch a movie, and you feel it? Almost like you're actually in it? That's what I call "texture". The more you can feel a movie, the more authentic it feels, and the more authentic it feels, the better invested you are in it.
Authenticity is important. Even if we're watching a Science Fiction film, as long as the film we're watching feels weighted within its own context, the audience will be able to connect with the film. The majority of the battle for authenticity is done in the script stage, but it is in the hands of a good director to give it that authenticity that pushes it to completion, and even greatness. With Mud, Jeff Nichols realizes that beautifully.
I often find that the best way to bring the audience into the film is to add texture to it, which is easier said than done. It's something that must be applied carefully, as everything matters. It's not just the mise en scene, although what we see visually does lend to the film's texture, but the sound too.
For most of Mud, there's not really a music score, and Nichols instead prefers to use the natural sounds of the settings. Every time someone is walking, we hear the sound of the leaves getting crushed. We hear the leaves of the trees floating in the wind. We hear the water sloshing against the beach. Little sounds like these help give the film a sonic landscape.
But of course, visually it must match up, and this film succeeds. Matthew McConaughey's Mud looks dirty, and I could feel the dirt on him (I spent half the film wishing he would take a bath. The set design of his hideout feels remote, messy, and lived in.
And from this sense of texture, leads to more texture. The way actors touch each other almost dissolves the screen of its two dimensional physical state, and opens the film up to let the audience in.
Then it happens. You don't just feel the film, you're in it. I felt the hot Arkansas sun beating down on me. I felt the sand rubbing its way into my feat. I felt the hot seat of the boat, or the sticky can of beans Mud continually eats throughout the film. Hell, there's a scene where the two boys walk into a bar, and I SMELLED the bar before the film had a second to even establish the location.
It's just the small things that lends to a bigger thing. And it's a hell of a thing.
★★★★★ review by Peaceful Stoner on Letterboxd
Jeff Nichols’ Mud is a beautiful coming of age film. Not only is it beautiful but also, compelling, thrilling, heartily emotional and a well-rounded film.
Nichols takes ample time, to sculpt each character in the film making them well fleshed out. This provided for an incredibly rewarding watch with a tremendous sense of feeling and affinity to the characters. No one in this film seemed like an additional baggage or being shoe horned into the story to take it forward. Everyone has a part to play, an important part at that too. Never did the 2 hour long film seemed overdrawn. It took its time sinking in every speckle of beauty in the beautiful southern setting of the Arkansas backwaters, the incredible sunsets and establishing the characters, their back stories and how they are connected to each other by the inevitable commonality called Love.
A coming of age film can never be complete without the person in focus learning about Love. Love is something which everyone feels at some part of their lives. It is better to know what it is, how it must be dealt with, how others deal with it and how to overcome the pain of losing a loved one, the ability to accept betrayal, the courage to face the aftermath of falling in love with a person who did not deserve you and the most important of all how to stay true your whole life to that special someone who is the love of your life. All these emotions and feelings spurt on the young, the middle aged and the old alike and everyone does the right thing of not letting down their loved ones in the end, giving a superiorly satisfying ending.
The performances are out standing in every possible sense. Ellis played with such brilliant earthy sense, a touch of innocence, overflowing with youthful enthusiasm and courage by Tye Sheridan(the beloved son of the O’Briens from The Tree of Life) is the real highlight. It would not be a surprise if he won the lead role Oscar as this is one of the best performances I have seen all year. Ellis’s character is very complex and heavy, as the whole film centres around him. The 14 year old boy witnesses his parents’ marriage on the verge of breaking down, his own life being directionless, betrayal of trust by the person he loves provide for a very tough, demanding role and he just knocks the ball out of the park. His performance is so realistic, gritty and at the same time sweetly innocent which made me shed tears at the end when he did, helplessly with the feeling of being let down. Such a noteworthy performance considering the age, the weight of the film and the complicated journey of the character.
Matthew McConaughey continues his revelation coming up with another stellar performance. His role might seem a bit aloof in the beginning, but as the film flows we happen to see several layers of his past grief, trauma and longing affecting him. He is not what his appearance suggests. McConaughey does a great job in looking the part and also conveying such a myriad of emotions in an affecting manner.
The supporting roles cannot go without praise here. Even though their screen presence is much shorter their roles are equally important as that of the leads. Ray McKinnon who plays the Father of Ellis is a man who is torn between his responsibilities, familial problems and his inability to muster up courage to get out of his comfort zone and explore a new life. His role is very significant and plays a vital cog in Ellis’s life and development. Sarah Paulson and Jacob Lofland (playing Neckbone who is almost always in the screen with Ellis) also deserve some lofty praise for carrying out their roles with effortless ease and conviction. It was good to see Reese Wither spoon back in action, in good form and shape too. Then come the Stalwarts, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard. Shepard’s small role of Tom Blankenship with the inimitable, pitch perfect Southern accent blew me away with his characteristic charisma. He was tailor made for this role. Shannon is very much non-existent in the film. But he never needs a whole film to make an impression does he? He says in the film and I quote,
“So you get your heart broke? Don’t walk around with a shit look on your face. Get back in there and get your tip wet. You hear me?”
As much as I can laud the writing here, the way Shannon delivers this line is enough for his foot print to be felt in the film.
In Take Shelter, Nichols kept us guessing all the way through to the very end about the mental state of the protagonist. Here he does the same with Mud. We are not clear whether Mud is good or bad until the end. The way things unravel gradually was really touching without ever trying to be. That is the real beauty of this film.
Incredibly well shot, the lingering of country music, the effervescent beauty of the country side, earthy and realistic performances, a simple, poignant tale which carves out an invaluable life experience together make Mud a wonderful heart-warming journey and a very special one at that too.
★★★★ review by Sean Cordy on Letterboxd
I re-watched Mud tonight to see if it could live up to my previous viewing. Much like The Place Beyond the Pines, it does add up but it actually improved. TPBTP had one of the greatest acts of the century but faltered after its first 40 minutes. Jeff Nichols’s Mud, however, doesn’t ever really falter at all – consistently great cinema.
What my re-watch showed me, was that it gets the little things right to amplify the big picture of it all. From Mud telling Neckbone that he’ll teach him something his daddy never did (which segways to a small side story of Neckbone being raised by his uncle) to Mud’s animalistic traits such as leaving his mark on the boat with mud or how he eats his food. There’s great attention to detail here, and it’s all the better for it. But with such details being noted, a heavy-handed film is imminent – right?
No. Mud is anything but heavy handed. It’s so intimate and personal. I was sympathetic for all of the characters, and truly understood their motives and decisions (in life) without question. It’s told through the perspective of Ellis, a teenage Arkansan, and really reels in the audience to experience his coming of age story. Nichols doesn’t just tell us a story, he makes us part of the story with Ellis and Neckbone. I felt like I knew Ellis personally, and that’s because Nichols understands that there’s one thing in life that unites us all…love.
A coming of age story is not complete without learning about love. Ellis doesn’t understand marriage; why his parents want a divorce. Or more importantly, what leads to marriage. He thinks that when you’re married, you just love that person forever. He questions the system of love, finding out there isn’t one. He “loves” May Pearl and thinks she loves him back because of that one kiss, but because of his encounter with Mud, he soon learns that love isn’t fair.
All of the characters have great rhyme and reason – developed well with the story. Mud is especially great, as he is the centerpiece of the story and perfectly complements Ellis. Ellis learns from Mud (and his mistakes in life with Juniper and such) but Mud learns just as much from Ellis. Everyone adds something of meaning to the story; like the importance of parents whether it be an uncle taking care of you, a surrogate father like Tom, or your biological parents. The screenplay is magnetic and insightful and becomes an immersive experience thanks to the gentle hand of Jeff Nichols.
Few films can feel like Mud. It exudes life – crying out to us. Every film tries to develop story, characters, relationships and such. Mud does that and it develops its aesthetics along the way to further the story even more. We are introduced to the story by way of the water, and the land – blades of grass, sand, and mud. But by the end, Nichols has the camera pointing towards the sky, looking at the birds like Juniper’s tattoo on her hand. The camera has shifted its outlook, just as the characters have (like Mud transforming from an animal to a fine trimmed human that cares about others more than himself now). The score is wonderfully enigmatic and gives even more texture to such an immersive looking film. Nichols really makes me feel like I’ve been living on the Mississippi all of my life – makes me care for the land.
Mud is truly a wonderful experience and passes with flying colors. It’s technically astounding, a wonderful acting ensemble, and touching coming of age story that we’ve all read about before in English class, but like it’s ending, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Overall Grade: A
- See all reviews