Mud is a sticky, sweaty and swampy coming of age film about two boys, a man and a boat in a tree. Two adventurous teenage boys who live on the Mississippi river find a boat up a tree on a small deserted island, miles from anywhere. Excited at the prospect of their new, secluded secret hideout, the boys soon discover that the boat is in fact inhabited by a strange man who calls himself Mud. Initially wary of the stranger, the boys get close to the man and help him first by bringing food and then with plans to complete the Herzogian task of bringing the boat down from the tree. This is all set against a gritty, humid backdrop with a hint that something in the air smells like death.
I thought I’d missed my chance to see Mud at the cinema but found a midday screening I was able to slip into on a day off work. I’d been looking forward to it as the trailer looked promising and I’ve become a fan of Matthew McConaughey’s ‘McConaissance’. Having now seen it I can report that for me the film worked well but there was just something that niggled with me. I can’t put my finger on the problem but it wasn’t long before I was fidgety and bored.
The film feels a little bit like an amalgamation of several other movies. There are shades of the boy’s-own coming of age adventure of Stand by Me but set in a place more reminiscent of Beastsof the Southern Wild. The texture of the film felt quite similar to Killer Joe in the way that the landscapes were so clammy that they seemed to fill the cinema. Unfortunately, despite having bits of all of those films in here, it doesn’t live up to any of them. The story is initially at least, very interesting. I was fascinated by the riverside community and lifestyle and how it fit with the world of the modern American teen. Mud’s back story and reasons for being on the island were also something I was eagerly awaiting discovery of but it doesn’t take long before it becomes obvious. From about twenty minutes in, the plot is pretty much laid out in front of the audience and it’s just a matter of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.
Something which didn’t sit well with me was the portrayal of the female characters. There are only three females in the entire movie and without wanting to give too much away, each one is a bit of a bitch. The women all end the film as villains and the moral of the story seems to be ‘Don’t trust ‘em’. I don’t know if this is in some way how the world is meant to be seen through the eyes of the fourteen year old central character of if the writer had just been through a particularly tough breakup but there are male characters that kill people who get an easier ride than the female characters.
The acting from the principle cast is pretty good across the board. Youngsters Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play the two boys at the centre of the story and both are excellent in their own right. Their characters are very distinct and they play their roles with great maturity. Matthew McConaughey delivers another fine performance as the title character. He isn’t as creepy as you’d expect for a man living alone on an island but has warmth in his heart. Reese Withersppon is fine and it’s nice to see her in something a little gritty but she isn’t given much to do. The same goes for Michael Shannon who I love to see in anything but isn’t stretched here. Sam Shepard has a small role and filled the screen with his presence.
A couple of years ago I was very impressed with the cinematography of Director Jeff Nichols’ fantastic Take Shelter. Once again he’s produced a film which looks great but it isn’t quite as striking as his previous work. Still, there are some delightful vistas and sumptuous yet dirty looking shots of the river community and small town. This is a good looking film by anyone’s standards. The movie had a similar sense of oncoming dread as Take Shelter but like the visuals, this too was toned down. Overall though the story just didn’t grab me and I was able to plot its path fairly easily. I became restless around the half way mark and didn’t get comfortable again until the final few scenes. Mud is well acted and looks good but I was expecting just a little more from the talented writer/director.
- The T-Shirt Neckbone wears in the first few scenes features the Washington D.C. band Fugazi. It has nothing to do with the film Donnie Brasco.
- Chris Pine was originally considered for the title role.
- The idea of moving a boat across awkward terrain has been explored before in Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.