Part adolescent yarn, part yearning love story, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon
Jeff Nichols’ third film, Mud, arrives with much expectation. His second, Take Shelter, was a marvellous study of the inner turmoil of Michael Shannon’s blue-collar worker, a man haunted by apocalyptic visions. By comparison, Mud feels more prosaic. Heavily inspired by Mark Twain, it’s part adolescent yarn, part yearning love story.
Seen through the eyes of two Arkansas teenagers, 14 year-old Ellis (The Tree of Life’s Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), the story revolves around Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a tanned and tattoo-clad escaped con hiding out on the banks of the Mississippi in a boat that, somehow, is improbably wedged in the branches of a tree.
When the boys encounters Mud, he spies an opportunity to recruit them as messengers, to deliver a missive to the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) – with a view to crossing state lines and making good their escape. Really, it’s an awakening for the boys – Tye in particular – to a wider world. Disillusionment and disenchantment are the order of the day.
With a languid pacing that meanders more than the Mississippi, Mud’s careful sense of place reminds you of the early films of David Gordon Green and, of course, the work of Terrence Malick. It’s a frustrating film at times, somewhat lacking Take Shelter’s fierce originality and, at an overlong 130 minutes, crawls towards a conclusion that isn’t entirely satisfying.
What it does boast are impressive performances. Benefitting from McConaughey on a hot streak (after Killer Joe and Magic Mike), Nichols also draws fine naturalistic turns from his two spirited teenagers. There are small but vital contributions from Sam Shepard and Nichols regular Michael Shannon, while Witherspoon brings understated poignancy to her role. By Nichols’ already high standards, this feels a minor work – but it’s been made with love.
General release from Fri 10 May.