A Penny for Your Thought; A Nichols for Your Bliss
Review written by Tom Bevis
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan
I’m thinking right now that it’s a shame more people won’t go see Mud. Some people will see Matthew McConaughey on the poster and write it off right then and there. Others will read the reviews and assume it is some kind of regurgitation of Stand By Me and decide to pass. Many of them, though, will look at the poster or the movie’s name on the marquis and wonder what the hell it is. The movie business is an industry in which marketing sells the product. When there’s no marketing, it’s hard for the film to find its legs, and the sad truth is, not enough people know about Mud to make it a likely contender in any sort of box office, no matter how brilliant or bright.
To put it simply, Mud is a coming of age story, and while it indeed has shades of Stand By Me, it’s primary ingredient is the writings of Mark Twain, primarily The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel starring Huckleberry Fin. The central character here is a young man, 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) who is struggling to adapt to a bevy of changes occurring in his life: the potential divorce of his family, new laws restricting fishing in or living on the Mississippi River, and whether or not he has a girlfriend.
Juxtaposed against this turbulent adolescent backdrop is the unusually serene Mud (McConaughey), an apparent recluse hiding out on an island. Though this man has nothing but a few possessions (“I only got two things of value,” he says often, “this gun and this shirt on my back.”), he doesn’t seem to want for much. Ellis, along with his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), strike up a quick friendship with Mud, as the two boys attempt to help Mud reach his final destination.
Mud is a bright and beautifully shot film. Whether it is images of the rickety Arkansas town, claustrophobic interior shots, or the dusty, sweeping visage of the Mississippi River, this film is breathtaking. Intuitive use of the steadicam lends the ability to seamlessly move through each environment and from one to the other.
None of these environments seems nearly as impressive, though, as McConaughey himself, who has been built for years to constantly be the down-home southern gentleman heartthrob we’re mostly familiar with. Suffice to say that he’s uglied up a good deal in this movie to play the role of Mud, as he sports uneven teeth, dirt-coated garb, and a perpetual cloak of dust. His signature tone of bravado and pride is also tuned down as he is turned into a character on his last leg, forced to hide out in the elements. Instead of the boasty southerner, he more resembles the humble outsider.
This is an interesting role for McConaughey, reaching away from the typical brainless hit-and-go comedies he frequents and instead providing him with an elegant script, allowing him to flex his drama muscles. Along with the young actors that play the lead and his sidekick, the performances in this film are all spectacular, portrayed with a hearty realism that’s complimented by the film’s dusty frame. The supporting cast perform their roles to their individual credits, cast including Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, and Paul Sparks. Reese Witherspoon, though, was the cast’s weak link. This isn’t to say she was bad in the film, though, but she didn’t bring anything personal, creative, or detrimental to the role. She could have been any other actress.
Like I said, it’s a shame this movie is opening the same weekend as Pain & Gain. If you’re headed out to the theaters anytime soon, choose the movie made with a brain. Choose the movie that will make you use your heart. Choose Mud, and you’ll be greeted with a beautifully woven, elegant coming of age story that will define this year in cinema. Or, if you prefer the equivalent of pounding your head against cement for two hours, you can stop by Pain & Gain.