One of the things I’d love to do with my life is to be able to teach film, wether it’s film history, writing, or anything really. That being said, there are times where I watch a movie and I think, “That’s one that I would teach.” This is where Jeff Nichols’ film Mud comes in. Without a great screenplay, there’s no way for a movie to achieve true greatness, but when I say the screenplay for this movie is the best I’ve seen in a long time, I would not be exaggerating. It may be a slow moving story, but it is full of mystery, true to life characters, and a strong sense of pacing.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year old boys growing up in De Witt, Arkansas. One day while investigating a boat stuck on the branches of a tree on an island on the Arkansas River, they meet a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is apparently using the boat and the island as a hide out. According to Mud, he is waiting there for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to meet him there and start the rest of their lives together. The two boys become so enraptured by Mud’s tale of love and adventure that they start bringing him food and helping him get the boat down from the tree to get away on, but little do they know the danger that lurks from Mud’s past and the trouble that their curiosity might get them into.
When I say the screenplay for Mud is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen, I don’t think I’d be kidding you or myself.Everything that is said or done over the course of the movie is important in some way. Not only that, but this movie works great as both a coming of age drama and a suspenseful work of mystery. The mystery begins right away when the boys find a boat in a tree, which is a really intriguing plot device. to begin with. Thing get even more complex and interesting when they meet Mud and he begins telling them what his life has been like and why he’s hiding out like he is. The thing is, Mud can’t really be trusted and the fact that we’re seeing all this through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy makes it more questionable.
Having this movie’s story told from the perspective of a fourteen year old is a very important element to the plot. When you’re fourteen, the world seems huge, but you’re ready to face it head on. I know that when I was fourteen, I would hear something and believe it no matter what anyone else told me. This makes the character of Ellis so complex, because he can be so easily molded by what’s around him. This also makes his interactions with Mud more intriguing and mysterious, because even I didn’t know what to make of Mud or how much to believe him. I feel like I’m ranting now. What I’m trying to say is that Mud is a super deep film with themes that span from adulthood to love and to truth, just to name a few.
This was shot during McConaughey’s big comeback. Before this there was Killer Joe and The Lincoln Lawyer, then there was Mud and finally Dallas Buyer’s Club for which he won the Academy Award. Needless to say, McConaughey gives a fantastic performance as Mud, who is both likable and, in a way, reprehensible. Even the kids give good performances. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland have great chemistry and seem to have a great understanding of their characters. The only person I feel was underutilized was Reese Witherspoon. The scenes that she’s in are great, but she really isn’t in the film all that much.
Mud is one of the most well written movies I have ever seen, and anyone can feel free to disagree with me. It’s a deeply layered story of growing up and learning the truth from the adults around you, who are both liars and honest. I’ve seen comparisons to the works of Stephen King and Mark Twain, and I almost see this as a combination of their works. The only thing that doesn’t work is a tacked on ending that I don’t want to really get into. The bottom line is that Mud is a must see for the acting, the story, and the layers of the screenplay.