I’ve seen Mud twice (rare for me to take time for that with new releases), and if you haven’t seen it at least half as much, I advise you to get to the cinema as soon as you can and take in this surprising little film that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
UNCSA grad Jeff Nichols has also written and directed Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter and with Mud, he really takes his work to a different level.
All three films are beautifully shot by my former student, Adam Stone, who earned a degree at Wake Forest before earning a second at UNCSA, a connection that led to his collaborations with Nichols.
The craft of the film – cinematography, locations, production design, editing, use of music – is perfected suited to the story.
While I liked Nichols’ previous films, a bigger budget this time around helps him work on a different scale than before.
Mud has a star-studded cast with Matthew McConaughey in the title role supported by Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shephard, Michael Shannon, and familiar faces like Joe Don Baker, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Paul Sparks.
But, it is newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland playing two young teens who anchor the story, and they are perfectly cast.
As noted, a bigger budget helps separate Mud from Nichols earlier films in certain ways, but it is the writing and the craft that are essential elements to making this film one I believe will stick with viewers and inspire conversation. This is a film that people want to share and to talk about after viewing, and it is the writing that puts everything else into motion and elevates the film to a new level for Nichols.
On the surface, the story is simple. Two boys from rural Arkansas find a boat lodged in a tree after a previous flood and soon after encounter a fugitive. They decide to help Mud (McConaughey) because it is love that has driven him on the lam from the law, and Ellis (Sheridan) is drawn in by that because of his own experiences with first love set against the unraveling of his parents’ marriage.
There is so much richness embedded into the telling of this story.
Like all bittersweet coming of age stories (and can there be any other kind that is authentic?), there is more here than meets the eye. What I find particularly lovely about the film is that each character except Neckbone (Lofland), Ellis’s friend who isn’t quite there yet developmentally, has at least one love story woven into the larger narrative.
Love drives everything that happens in the film, but the individual stories fit together perfectly to support the plot in ways that are subtle and beautifully rendered.
This is a magical story because of its startling simplicity and essential truth – just the kind of intimate drama I have a predilection for and that, when it works, affects me deeply.
In Mud, it works.