Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Mud (2012 film)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud is the story of two boys who meet a strange man living on a boat stuck on a tree as he is hiding from bounty hunters while hoping to return to his former flame. The film is an adventure in which two teenage boys meet up with this man as it’s set entirely in Arkansas where they try to help this man who is carrying some secrets of his own. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, and Sam Shepard. Mud is a riveting yet towering film from Jeff Nichols.
The film is a simple story of two teenage boys who meet a mysterious man in an island on the Arkansas River as he is living on a boat on top of a tree that the boys want. It’s a film that explores this complex relationship between this man who is on the run from authorities and bounty hunters while he befriends these two boys as he asks for their help in getting the boat down from the tree and fix it. Even as it is a film about men and young men where this man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is hoping to reunite with his old flame whom he went to jail for. While Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) help bring some supplies, Ellis encounters things in his own life that he’s unprepared for while understanding the fallacies of love.
Jeff Nichols’ screenplay is mostly about Ellis as he copes with not just his parents separating but also the idea of leaving the river home he’s spent much of his life. It’s really a coming-of-age tale for both Ellis and Neckbone as the two are becoming interested in women as Ellis would gain the attention of a high school girl in May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) whom he has a crush on. Yet, their encounter with Mud would give them a chance to do something in the hopes that they could get the boat for themselves as the two also learn about Mud’s intentions as he waiting for his old flame in Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Juniper is this woman who has a past with Mud as she learns through Ellis and Neckbone about Mud as she is also being watched by a bounty hunter whose brother was killed by Mud.
It adds to the drama as well as the severity of the situations where things do intensify on an emotional level in the third act as the warnings that Ellis is getting from neighbor in Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) starts to seep in. Even as revelations about what Mud did that got him in trouble start to emerge which plays into not just the fallacies of love but also how foolish men are when it comes to women. The script also goes into the idea of loyalty and doing what is right where even though Ellis and Neckbone would do things that are wrong so they can help Mud. They do start to question what they’re doing as well as why Mud hasn’t contacted Juniper himself though they know he’s a wanted man.
Nichols’ direction is very entrancing not just for the way he creates this film as this mixture of thriller with a coming of age drama. He also manages to make something that definitely feels like a very Southern film not just in its many locations in small towns in Arkansas but also in places near its river and the Mississippi River. While many of the compositions from close-ups to wide shots are very simple with some underwater shots and some unique camera angles. There is a sense of naturalism that Nichols is going for as he shoots a lot of places on locations where there is a beauty to the river and some of skylines while there’s also something that feels very grimy such as some of the aspects of nature.
The direction also has Nichols use suspense in some very effective ways as it pertains to the horde of bounty hunters that are going after Mud as well as the warnings that Blankenship has for Ellis about getting too close to Mud. There’s also some humor in the way it plays into the idea of love while much of it is dramatic as Nichols makes no bones that this is a film about men though he doesn’t portray women as selfish beings but rather those who are just complicated. It’s that idea that would spark much of the film’s more intense third act where it isn’t just about Mud facing his demons but also the consequences that Ellis would have that would shape him from boyhood to manhood. Overall, Nichols creates a very somber yet exhilarating film about two boys who help a man trying to get back to an old flame.
Cinematographer Adam Stone does brilliant work with the film‘s gorgeous cinematography from the look of the skylines to some of the nighttime exterior settings in the island as well as some interior scenes where the lighting plays into the dark mood of the film. Editor Julie Monroe does excellent work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward in terms of its rhythmic cuts as well as playing into the film‘s suspense. Production designer Richard A. Wright, with set decorator Fontaine Beauchamp Hebb and art director Elliott Glick, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the river house that Ellis and his family lived in to the design of the boat that he and Neckbone would find that Mud would live in.
Costume designer Kari Perkins does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual from the white shirt that Mud wears to the clothes that Juniper wears. Sound designer Will Files does amazing work with the film‘s sound to convey for many of the film‘s locations in the rivers as well as some scenes in some of the social gatherings including a bar where Juniper goes to. The film’s music by David Wingo is superb for its mixture of folk music with eerie orchestral-like pieces to play into the world that is the American South that includes some country textures in the music while music supervisor Steve Lindsey maintains that world of the South with a lot of music ranging from country to rock as well as an inspired use of the Beach Boys‘ Help Me Rhonda.
The casting by Francine Maisler is phenomenal as it features some notable small roles from Kirsty Barrington as Neckbone’s uncle’s girlfriend, Bonnie Sturdivant as Ellis’ high-school crush May Pearl, Joe Don Baker as a notorious crime kingpin who wants Mud dead, Paul Sparks as the kingpin’s son who wants vengeance for his brother’s death, and Michael Shannon in a superb performance as Neckbone’s uncle Galen who provides some of the film’s funnier moments. Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon are excellent as Ellis’ parents with Paulson playing the mother who tries to talk to Ellis about why she’s leaving her father while McKinnon plays the father who feels like he let his son down. Sam Shepard is brilliant as Ted Blankenship as a former assassin who was a father-figure for Mud as a boy as he realizes why Mud has come back. Jacob Lofland is amazing as Neckbone as a teen who helps Ellis do things for Mud as he would prove to be a formidable ally as he also says some funny things.
Reese Witherspoon is fantastic as Juniper as Mud’s former girlfriend as she learns about Mud returning as she is this very complex person who loves Mud but is also a very flawed woman who plays into the idea of love’s fallacy. Tye Sheridan is incredible as Ellis as this 14-year old boy who befriends Mud as he deals with helping Mud as well as growing up and experience first-love. Finally, there’s Matthew McConaughey in a tremendous performance as the titular character as this man who is on the run as he is eager to return to his old flame as he also proves to be someone that knows a lot about love while being unaware of the same mistakes he’s making.
Mud is a spectacular film from Jeff Nichols that features a mesmerizing leading performance from Matthew McConaughey as the titular character. Along with a great supporting cast that includes Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland, and Sam Shepard. It’s a film that manages to be a lot of things such as a coming-of-age story and a suspense thriller while having so many things to say. In the end, Mud is an outstanding film from Jeff Nichols.
Jeff Nichols Films: Shotgun Stories - Take Shelter - Midnight Special - Loving (2016 film) - The Auteurs #58: Jeff Nichols
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