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USA 2012
Directed by
Jeff Nichols
130 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars


Synopsis: Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year olds who like to go off exploring together. Taking their boat out to a small island in the middle of a river they find a boat halfway up a tree and hatch a plan to make it their hideout. But then they discover that Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is living there. He tells them a story of how he’s hiding out, waiting for his true love to come to him. So they decide to help him out.

At this point, I’m pretty much ready to declare Jeff Nichols as one of the greatest living filmmakers of our time. His previous films, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, are both masterful works and now he’s pulled off the hat trick. Film buffs will delight in identifying all the hallmarks of his work, notably the backwoods setting, David Wingo's music (both of which are staples of  David Gordon Green's films) and presence of Michael Shannon, but the fact that such different stories exist within the same milieu shows he’s an auteur of great narrative flexibility. In this case, Nichols tackles young adult fiction and  the coming-of-age story and handles it with aplomb.

Ellis is just on the cusp of leaving childhood. He’s started noticing girls, he wants to believe in love, and his parents are on the brink of getting a divorce. His world is starting to unravel and he wants something to hold on to. Mud tells him a story of a love so powerful it will make a man kill. His girl, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) has a bad habit of hooking up with no-good men, then running back to Mud for help when things go wrong. As a result Mud has murdered a man who abused the girl he loves and he’s on the run from the dead man’s vengeful family. The disconnect between the romance that it conjures up in a 14-year old's imagination and the real-life toxic relationship we that see is deftly but powerfully handled.

The resolution to the story jars somewhat as it crunches from laconic backwoods saga to conventional shoot 'em up climax and wraps with a rather glib coda (what happened to Neckbone?, one wonders, and was that Juniper we see at teh end or Ellis's sometime girlfriend, May Pearl?)

With a uniformly excellent performances and a tense yet fable-like narrative, Mud is like S.E Hinton or Judy Blume by way of Hartley’s "The Go-Between". It’s a touching coming-of-age story told with heart and compassion and great film-making flair.




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