Mud is not a typical love story. However, it’s an adventure story that many novelists have told before. Immediately, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn come to mind, as writer/director Jeff Nichols displays an intimate image of two young boys who travel through the Mississippi River and encounter a peculiar man.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) take a boat and travel to a deserted island, where they’ve already discovered a boat stuck in a tree that they claim as theirs. Ellis’ curiosity peaks when he notices shoe imprints that seem out of place. As his eyes follow the trail, a man with a faded yellow shirt, chipped front teeth and pistol appears before him. He goes by the name Mud. Matthew McConaughey embodies the character Mud so well that, as a viewer, you almost forget he’s Matthew McConaughey.
Some critics claim Mud to be McConaughey’s best performance, and yet I’m convinced that Sheridan as young Ellis captured all of the attention. His sensitive and soft-spoken character changes into an outspoken, risk-taking kid. He loses his innocence the closer he becomes with Mud. Whereas, McConaughey plays the same character throughout the entire film, Sheridan’s character is constantly transforming. If any character got snubbed, it was Reese Witherspoon, who plays Mud’s girlfriend Juniper. Nichols’ failed to add appeal to her character, since she was basically written off as a trashier version of a damsel in distress.
At first glance, the film seemingly resembles American literature from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, until the dialogue transforms into a story about the screwed up side of love. There’s a parallel between both Ellis’ and Mud’s love stories. They both share the same affection for girls whose love seems unrequited. Ellis is in desperate search for love since the people close to him are bad examples. Nichols’ use of ugliness adds emotion to the film, giving it dramatic intensity. The metaphors of pain and heartache are shown through the dark, grimy images of the town and living situations of both Mud and the boys.
The 35 mm camera used by Nichols is becoming rare compared to the commonly used digital cameras in cinema. However, the shots were done so intricately and thoughtfully that as a viewer, I couldn’t tell the difference. An array of nature shots of Ellis’ home on the river highlight the film’s setting in the South. The natural lighting illuminated the eyes of actors adding more of an emotional appeal. The images of trees to the river’s flow were vividly colored due to the sun’s natural lighting. The shots that obtained the natural lighting worked because it connected to the adventurous theme.
The film could have been a cheesy romantic comedy that captured the beauty of love, but instead Mud unraveled the sometimes not-so-happy ending love story. Then again, Nichols’ style in his previous films like Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories are much heavier than Hollywood’s overly used happy-go-lucky films. The film is different in many ways with its story within a story, ruthlessness and metaphorical meanings. Yet, it has the same appeal as many major films that make it seem as though it’s trying to be too big budget for its indie flair.
Watch the official movie trailer for Mud below. Read our interview with Nichols and McConaughey here.