Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence and reinvention in acting continues in the Jeff Nichols-directed Mud. Not content with impressing in the likes of The Paperboy, Killer Joe and Magic Mike, he once again dons his sweaty white shirt to play the titular Mud, a man on the run for murder who befriends two boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and through them arranges to run away with the love of his life Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
While McConaughey may steal the show, this is in effect a coming-of-age drama in the mold of Huckleberry Finn that introduces the two young boys to the idea of love and accelerates their growth into adulthood. Nichols grounds his action in his home state of Arkansas, near to the Mississippi River. We are treated to fishing and other wholesome jobs that highlight the slower-paced, less technological advanced lives that the characters live. But this is rarely shown negatively, if anything there’s an element of nostalgic reverence for this more traditional Americana.
Much like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Mud presents the great river of the Mississippi as a place of adventure. There’s an unknown and exciting life awaiting the boys on the other side, and in this case it’s McConnaughy who others them friendship and a relationship that is missing in their daily lives, notably Ellis who is trying to come to terms with the disintegrating relationship of his parents.
Nichols carefully gives the scenes on the island a sense of mystery and without the references of technology, these could easily be set in any time period. It’s a fantasy world that is wholly separate from reality, tied loosely by the memories of the characters. It’s also the only safe haven for them all, although each wants to get off and take what they’ve learnt back to the shore.
The beauty of Mud, is not just the wonderful performances throughout, including a cheerful turn by the usually intense Michael Shannon, but it’s the ˜great American story’ feel throughout. This is the sort of roaming narrative that touches all and reminds adults of those key moments from childhood when the veil was drawn back and the hard and wonderful truths of life were revealed.