Mud

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Jeff Nichols

Starring

Matthew McConaughey Reese Witherspoon Tye Sheridan

Anticipation.

Just two films in, Jeff Nichols is already one of American cinema’s most exciting directors.

Enjoyment.

Americana at its finest.

In Retrospect.

Nichols keeps getting better, but his masterpiece is (excitingly) still to come.

Matthew McConaughey’s sublime transformation into A Serious Actor continues apace with this ripping Souther thriller.

Apparently not willing to carry the illustrious mantle of rom-com king into the current decade, Matthew McConaughey has spent the last three years reinventing himself as a Serious Actor. From leather-clad hitman in Killer Joe to greased-up strip-joint owner in Magic Mike and virtuous reporter in The Paperboy, McConaughey has traded his easy Southern charm for a steelier charisma. And with Baghdad siege thriller Thunder Run, AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club and Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street forthcoming, it appears he’s not yet finished flexing his thespoids.

It’s easy to forget that at one time McConaughey was being touted as the new Paul Newman, having received back-to-back praise in the mid-’90s for A Time to Kill and Lone Star, the latter of which has been namechecked by writer/director Jeff Nichols for part-inspiring his third feature. In this Deep South fairy tale, McConaughey is paired for the first time with fellow rom-com darlin’ Reese Witherspoon, who similarly relishes playing against type. But Mud doesn’t belong to either of them.

On a remote stretch of river deep in the heart of Arkansas’ swamplands, delta dweller Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and bucktoothed best pal Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover a boat stuck halfway up a tree. They’re not the only ones with eyes on this stranded treasure, however, as an enigmatic drifter – distinguishable by his grubby white shirt, chipped front tooth and arm-length snake tattoo – makes his presence known. The boys know better than to mix with strangers, but they allow their keen sense of adventure to override their better judgement and strike a deal: bring Mud (McConaughey) spare parts and tools to fix the boat and in return he’ll give them one of only two valuable items in his possession: a six-shooter.

With his previous features Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, Nichols proved himself to be an assured practitioner of densely layered, atmospheric family drama. In Mud he shifts the tone towards something more sentimental and innocent, but the result is no less affecting. To this end, it’s the film’s young lead who shines brightest. Mud and Ellis are hopelessly idealistic kindred spirits whose fractious relationship provides the film’s true emotional hook, and Sheridan, making only his second screen appearance following Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, delivers the stand-out performance.

Equal parts ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and Stand By Me, with a swirl of Spielbergian wonderment and Cormac McCarthy colloquialism, Mud is a thrilling, unapologetically sweet and occasionally melodramatic coming-of-ager that confidently handles a variety of themes – true love, innocence, companionship, divorce, revenge, sacrifice, heroism (both real and perceived). It’s also quite possibly the most beautiful film ever made about the Mississippi River, a bittersweet (but ultimately optimistic) ode to a dying way of life.

Published 9 May 2013

Tags: Jeff Nichols Matthew McConaughey

Anticipation.

Just two films in, Jeff Nichols is already one of American cinema’s most exciting directors.

Enjoyment.

Americana at its finest.

In Retrospect.

Nichols keeps getting better, but his masterpiece is (excitingly) still to come.

Read More

Take Shelter

By Adam Woodward

More metaphorical tact would turn Take Shelter from a brisk gale to a force five.

review

Jeff Nichols’ guide to crafting a movie ending

By Adam Woodward

The writer/director of Take Shelter and Midnight Special offers his take on an essential filmmaking skill.

Joe

By Nick Newman

Nicolas Cage is gifted one of his best roles in years as an ex-alcoholic who take a young drifter under his wing.

review

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, LWLies has been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design