A beautiful looking, fantastically written, acted and paced, all-round excellent film. Mud is a shining example of the upside to the bigger-is-better culture of Hollywood,
In my last post I spent a good deal of time dwelling on the problems with Hollywood's obsession with bigger and yet bigger pictures, built for the mass market. To be clear; I enjoyed my time in the cinema watching Man of Steel, and a good many other blockbusters of its ilk. Some of them are abominations though. I don't review them often, because I don't often bother to see them.
But here I want to focus on one of the upshots of modern Hollywood, and especially one that has come about with the recent proliferation of affordable digital film-making equipment. Mud is a relatively low-budget film - $10 million is pittance compared to $200 million superhero films - but it has all the professional production quality and artistic finesse of the best of those films.
Mud is directed by Jeff Nichols (who also directed Take Shelter, which I love). It's about two boys who live in the Arkansas delta - Ellis and Neckbone, born and raised on the river. Exploring the swampland, the boys stumble across an old boat suspended in a tree, and even stranger, a grown man living in it. The man's name is Mud. He has crosses in his footprints, and a snake tattooed upon his arm. The only things he values are his shirt, his gun, and the girl he's waiting for; Juniper. As they befriend Mud and begin to uncover his past, the boys are also being boys; living and learning as they throw themselves headlong at life.
The film is packed with fantastic actors. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are fantastic at expressing the experience of rural American boys (Sheriden has previously appeared in Tree of Life, while Lofland was formerly unknown). Matthew McConaughey is the next best highlight as the eponymous Mud. To make the link between Mud and Man of Steel even stronger I offer you this: Michael Shannon, who plays Zod in Man of Steel, also appears in Mud, as Galen; Neckbone's scuba-diving, womanizing cousin. He's also great. Everything about this movie is great.
The film exists in the shadow of epic blockbusters, but expresses over and above the raw human experience of those gargantuan entities of blandness. Mud is bursting at the seams with drama as Ellis struggles to reconcile the ideals of love burned into his spirit, with the harsh realities that confront him in everyday life. His parents are on the verge of divorce, his prospective girlfriend doesn't respect him (she being a few years his senior), Mud and Juniper can't find it in themselves to remain devoted. Love is supposed to be eternal; it's supposed to break the barriers of age and distance; to look over past wrongdoings, to inspire and empower future happiness.
As I look back on the Mud I realize that the only consistently positive relationship in the film is the relationship between the two boys. They aren't always on the same wavelength - Ellis is more curious about the boat, while Neckbone is thrilled to find a naughty magazine in it - but they are always there for each other. Specifically, Neckbone is always at Ellis's side when he does something stupid, like punching a hit man.
So in Ellis we see the embodiment of the ideal of love; an undying desire to see faithfulness in other people. In Neckbone we see that faithfulness realized in every action he takes. He's a most humble character in that way, really.