By Laurie Coker
Matthew McConaughey is on fire. He’s made more movies in the past two years than most actors dream of and his characters are wide and varied. Regardless of the role, he seems to rise up and make it his own. In his most recent film MUD, he plays the title character and this film is truly a vehicle for his talents. From director/screenwriter, Jeff Nichols, MUD gave me my favorite film of SXSW Film Festival this year and one that will most likely grace my top ten for 2013 too.
Set in the steamy delta, MUD follows a pair of best friends on a coming of age journey where they learn about relationships, love, life’s harsh realities and the meaning of true friendship. Elis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) venture out to a remote island in the Mississippi River when they find a boat high in a tree, but before they can lay claim, they meet Mud (McConaughey), a charismatic fugitive, holed up on the island waiting to reunite with the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Taken in by Mud’s charm, the boys agree to help him evade ruthless bounty hunters and reunited him with his one true love.
Nichols’s tale is multi-faceted one, filled with rich characters and intriguing stories and his imagery is stunning. While Elis and Neckbone sneak food, supplies and boat parts to Mud, Elis’ faces his parents impending separation. He lives with them in a home perched on the banks of the Mississippi, but soon all he knows will change – his address and his life. In school Elis deals with young love, the girl of his dream a senior, who leads him on and then treats him badly. The demise and disappointment surrounding relationships in his life, doesn’t deter or disillusion Elis. Wanting to see true love prevail, he works hard to reunite Juniper and Mud.
While McConaughey’s performance inspires, his young costars, especially Sheridan, are equally impressive. Sheridan’s character manages a plethora of emotions and experiences, many not meant for someone so young, and this adolescent actor keeps his character grounded in innocence, demonstrating pure, natural talent. Where McConaughey give the film its star power, Sheridan gives it is heart. Lofland, who reminds me of the late River Phoenix, in looks, and also in talent and expression, offers the ideal best-friend character and all that that entails. Witherspoon is almost unrecognizable as Juniper, a woman who obviously has seen the negative side of life, and she is darn good. Those who know McConaughey’s body of work won’t be surprised when the shirt comes off – it is hot and steamy in the Delta – but putting his perfect, chiseled body aside, the star completely engages – MUD gives him the perfect medium to prove he is more than just a pretty face attached to an exceptional physique – as if his past several roles haven’t already done that.
I mentioned Nichols’ beautiful imagery earlier. His pacing, too, pleases. He manages to move his story along at a slow, meandering lazy river-like tempo and still, keep us wholly engaged and invested. I give credit to his winning writing and direction and to this exceptional cast. Rated PG-13 for violence and subject matter, MUD is an experience rather than just a film, and as a film lover, who sees well over a hundred a year, I appreciate the journey and give it an A+.