“Mud” features two kiddie stars who engage your emotions from the start and keep you caring about them. Just for once, the children never annoy the viewer.
Director and writer Jeff Nichols fulfils the promise of his films “Take Shelter” and “Shotgun Stories” in this southern-fried thriller. It is as much about the mystique of the Mississippi River as it is about rural poverty and crime in Arkansas.
Nichols grew up here and you will never see such beautifully-filmed and loving shots of boats and the river. There are scenes of shimmering light that just take your breath away.
The plot is a very special and intricate tale that makes you root for a bad guy.
At the heart of this is a career-defining bravura performance by Matthew McConaughey. Brilliant in “The Paperboy” and “Magic Mike”, he manages to make his name about four syllables long, as if it’s Muuuuuuudd.
Mud is on the run. Two young boys (the utterly excellent Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) agree to help him escape, along with his true love Juniper. Reese Witherspoon looks lovely and is convincing, but she isn’t here for very long.
With echoes of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, young Ellis and Neckbone (Sheridan and Lofland) are drawn into Mud’s world and stories. Sam Shepard is superb as Mud’s old friend who warns the boys to be careful.
Nichols’ regular Michael Shannon is Galen, Neckbone’s uncle, with very nicely-written lines and music.
Parents and parental figures like Galen live marginal lives along the river.
Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Joe Don Baker have moments of anguish that are very real.
Superstitions, hopefulness, damaged expectations and the mythology of the Mississippi all play roles in this extraordinary thriller that will stay with me for a long time.
Superb camera work, a punchy script and excellent acting lift the 130 minutes to a high level. Yes, it lingers a little and slows down a few times, but it will rivet you.
See it. It’s beautiful and original. It may make you wish you could have another childhood, on the Mississippi.