Bring some bug spray, because ‘Mud’ (2013) is scorching.

31 May

Mud poster

Exams are over, baby.

If you thought that Matthew McConaughey wasn’t shady, grungy or downright sinister enough in films such as Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie or The Paperboy then this might be the movie for you. Here, McConaughey plays a fully-fledged killer… And his name is ‘Mud’! Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud is a drama set in the hazy swamps of Arkansas. Two young boys, Ellis and the brilliantly-named Neckbone, stumble upon a boat hanging off a tree while surfing the bayous. Childhood curiosity gets the better of them as they examine their unusual find, but to their alarm they discover that Mud has been using it as a hideaway from the feds. He and the kids make a pact of friendship, but as his dodgy past is revealed, so too are the limits of their impromptu comradery.

Nichols is known for 2011’s extraordinary Take Shelter, and Mud is a similar film insofar as it not only takes its time with storytelling and dramatic progression, but it likewise delivers the goods with a stunning sense of aesthetic prowess. Vast, rolling skies watch over the serpent-infested waters and choking humidity of the Deep South; this is the sort of film to watch on a chilly winter’s night, as you can feel the warmth of the sun emanating from the screen.

While the geography is sumptuous, Mud is really all about its characters. Lets not mince words: this is easily McConaughey’s best acting role to date. His character is brooding, otherworldly, and is so charming as to not only win the trust of the kids, but also win over the beautiful but troubled Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), a trashy angel with nightingales tattooed on her hands. He accomplishes all this with only the shirt on his back, crosses on his heels (“to ward off evil spirits”) and a head of matted, greasy hair.

McConaughey's grubby shirt is practically a main character.

McConaughey’s grubby shirt is practically a main character.

Although their names do not grace the title, it’s Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively) that are the real stars here. Both giving wonderfully believable performances which don’t even feel like acting, they refrain from being the precocious little moppets we as audiences are so accustomed to; these are rough kids, brought up as they are by impoverished families with meagre earnings. The unfolding events combine into one brutally honest lesson for them, namely that the adult world is deluded, volatile and ultimately unreliable.

A distinctly American film, Mud is very reminiscent of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird in that while they may match in terms of both style and setting, Mud is also a coming-of-age story that presents a distinctly negative, but honest juxtaposition of childhood innocence with the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Lethargic, delicate but packing quite an emotional punch,  Mud is one of the best films of 2013 so far. Go see it, but don’t forget the sun cream.

[Written for The Student Standard]

Simon says: at the moment, it’s the film of the year.


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