Distributed by: Lionsgate
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Ever since seeing the promos for Mud, I knew I wanted to see this film. It had that Stand By Me style to it that charmed me. Unfortunately, none of the local theaters were showing the movie when I wanted to see it and when they were, I was unable to make the showings. Thus, I have waited for an opportunity to rent the film at a decent price (no sense paying the price of a movie ticket to rent the film). Finally, the opportunity arrived.
Mud stars Tye Sheridan as Ellis, a fourteen year old boy whose life is about to become a jumble of emotions. It's hard enough being a teenager in the rural river community of De Witt, Arkansas, but Ellis is about to experience every ounce of teenage angst can feel in one year in just a period of a few days. It all begins when Ellis and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) head out to discover whether the rumor about a boat stuck in a tree on a nearby island in the Arkansas River is true.
Upon finding the boat, the two discover that someone is living in it - a mysterious man who introduces himself as Mud (Matthew McConaughey). According to Mud, he used to live in the area and proves it by naming townspeople (Sam Shepard) both he and Ellis knows. He then tells them that he is there to meet someone and that he would gladly trade his sleeping place for some food. Intrigued by the stranger, Ellis makes the deal.
Returning home, Ellis discovers that his life is about to go through a drastic change. His mother and father (Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon) are talking divorce and his father, bitter about the whole thing, warns Ellis that he can never trust in love. Worse, Ellis' mother is talking about moving out of their houseboat and into an apartment in the city, taking Ellis from the only home he has ever known. Wanting to spend less time at home, Ellis begins to spend more time with Mud.
As time passes, Ellis learns that Mud is actually waiting to meet up with the woman he loves, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). At first telling Ellis and Neckbone that the gun he carries is for protection, Mud reveals that he used the gun to kill a man who had physically harmed Juniper. He is now on the run from the law and from the man's family who are hunting him. Ellis agrees to help reunite Mud and Juniper in any way he can, clasping to the belief that love is a meaningful endeavor and should be cherished at all costs.
But the more he tries to help Mud, the more complicated things become in Ellis' life and when things begin to unravel in his plans for happiness, Ellis begins to see Mud in a different light. Could it be Mud has been lying to him the whole time...using him to help him get around the law to get what he needs? Could it all have been a lie?
After seeing the film, I was right in my assessment that Mud was a coming of age story in the style of Stand By Me. Ellis is a character who is about to embark on a journey that will mean the end of innocence. He's about to learn to not trust so easily and that love is a worthy pursuit, but something that is often fleeting. Tye Sheridan fills the shoes of Ellis well, making us believe in this character whole heartedly, hurt when he is hurt and celebrate with him in his victories. Matthew McConaughey puts on a terrific performance as the drifter, ducking the law and every one else out to get him in the pursuit of a love that is never meant to be. Somehow, the writing and McConaughey's performance have us rooting for this man to find happiness, despite what we learn about his past. Perhaps this is because we see him through the eyes of a young boy who idolizes him, but I think it's more than that. There is something loveable about the character of Mud. Sure, he tells tall tales and has some ultra strange habits, but in the end, he is a caring soul who will put himself in danger for anyone he cares deeply about.
A surprisingly good performance comes from Jacob Lofland who plays Neckbone, his first acting role ever. Plucked from an open casting call and seeming to resemble all the traits the director wanted for this role, Lofland received a call back right away. There is little wonder as to why. It's not exactly his line delivery that makes Lofland's performance so great. It's his facial expressions - they are the key to making Neckbone's character believable in his responses to Ellis' predicament.
There are decent performances by Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon in this film. Reese Witherspoon is one of the top billed names in this film, but her role is small in comparison to the rest and her performance is average...not horrible, but not standout. No, the true standouts in this film are Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey who have excellent chemistry together, making the teenager longing for approval from his mentor - who just happens to be someone he just met running from the law - a believable concept.
Before closing, I want to comment on two things - the cinematography and the score. The visuals in this movie are stunning. The bland surroundings of Ellis' home and his town are offset by the beauty of the river and the island where the boys find Mud. The shots are often breathtaking to behold, making the view wonder if the area is really that beautiful in person or if the beauty comes from some sort of movie magic. As for the score, well, I sort of trashed the Mud Soundtrack when it was sent to me for review. There was no way I could see myself actually buying it as a stand alone album. But now that I have seen the film and witnessed how the music fits with the visuals, I can honestly say that I was wrong - Jeff McIlwain created the perfect score for this film.
Despite being sometimes promoted as a great love story, Mud is really a coming of age tale with some excellent performances, a believable script and impressive visuals. In my opinion, it was well worth the wait!