Hopeless romantic – Mud review


By Simon Miraudo
June 10, 2013

In Jeff Nichols, America has a champion of the religious and working class. With the schism between the right and left in the U.S. growing ever larger (and dismissive assumptions being made about residents of the red states even here in Australia), his ascent couldn’t have come at a better time. Following on from his lasting, allegorical apocalypse drama Take Shelter, Nichols delivers an intimate story about a young boy who strikes up a friendship with a enigmatic drifter in Mud. Matthew McConaughey continues his dream run as the title character, a self-proclaimed romantic guilty only of loving Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) too much. Oh, and for murdering her abusive ex-boyfriend.

Living in isolation on a remote island just off the Mississippi river, awaiting a rendezvous with Juniper, Mud’s Gilligan-esque existence is interrupted by local, pre-teen adventurers Ellis (startlingly good up-and-comer Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). The boys are drawn to an abandoned boat hanging from the treetops, having been swept there during a flood and now ready for the rescuing. Mud promises to help them get it down, so long as they can keep him well fed and pass the occasional note to his paramour, inadvertently drawing them into the crosshairs of his late victim’s vengeful family.


Whereas Nichols managed to build dread to an almighty crescendo in Take Shelter, Mud ambles along at its own casual pace (though it too has a somewhat explosive finale all of its own). Taking its cues from classic works of literature as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Great Expectations, his tale feels timeless yet still wholly original. The character of Mud is a particularly novel invention; like Boo Radley crossed with Abel Magwitch. McConaughey’s performance maintains an underlying sense of danger even as he evolves into a warm father figure for Ellis, as well as an unlikely romantic hero (only once does he ditch his shirt, but it’s relevant to the plot, so we’ll let it slide). His and Juniper’s love story is not the only one to resonate. Ellis’ own flirtations with a girl slightly older coincides with the disintegration of his parents’ marriage. Mud wears its heart on its sleeve, and that’s a rare thing of beauty.

Without romanticising poverty, or reveling in its bleakness, and without  pandering to either locals or condescending “movie tourists,” Nichols manages to tell honest stories about people living significant, important lives in the flyover states. Even the popularisation of the dismissive term ‘flyover state’ to describe giant expanses of American land reminds us how thoroughly New York and Los Angeles thinking has become universally adopted. Mud’s surprisingly robust box office tally only proves that Nichols has his finger on the pulse of a people rarely given prominence on the screen. Fine performances make this fable a proud addition to Nichols’ steadily improving filmography.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Mud arrives in select Australian cinemas July 13, 2013.

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