The simple fact is that, when not doing romantic comedy dross, Matthew McConaughey is a fantastic actor. I would have thought that after all this time, people would realise this, but in my experience most are immediately dismissive of the guy. In Mud, he’s once again in fine form.
The story is fairly similar to that of ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ Best friends Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) take a boat to a nearby island where they discover the fugitive Mud, a mysterious figure carrying nothing but a pistol and the shirt on his back. Though initially distrustful, the boys eventually agree to get what Mud needs without raising the suspicion of either the cops or the criminals that are after him.
There’s a real sense of childhood adventure about this film. Whilst Ellis and Neckbone are teenagers, the film is more than a little reminiscent of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The two young actors are fantastic, bringing a sense of realism to a film that walks a fine line between depressing cinéma vérité and touching coming-of-age drama. McConaughey is great in the eponymous role and you may be surprised to learn that he spends most of the film with his shirt on.
Sam Shepard, Michael ‘kneel before Zod’ Shannon and Reese Witherspoon round out the cast, though none of them spent much time on screen. With regards to Witherspoon in particular, one gets the feeling she was only on set for a handful of days, and her role is a thankless one. In fact, all the female roles are thankless, and this is where Mud lets itself down.
All of the females that come into contact with Ellis fail him in some way or other. Even the 16 year old object of his affection, May Pearl (a promising Bonnie Sturdivant), is overwhelmingly flawed. The screenplay couldn’t promote a less positive portrayal of females if it tried, which is disappointing to say the least. It doesn’t feel intentional, but it is strange, and in the end leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Mud also suffers from pretty clunky examples of Chekov’s gun, and whilst the film isn’t entirely predictable, there are few surprises.
In the end, this is a solid drama cum thriller with some fine performances. It beautifully evokes the boys’ experiences in the adult world and their confusion that adults can make so many mistakes.Rating: