I’ve got to be honest, while I wouldn’t call this summer’s crop of movies “bad”, there hasn’t been anything released that reached above a plateau of “really good” and blew me away. Things were looking a little underwhelming as we approach the end of the season.
Then I saw Mud.
Director Jeff Nichols’ 2011 film Take Shelter was an under-the-radar darling for apparently all of the online critic community and a film I was just ok with. Michael Shannon was amazing (as he is in every role) but the movie around him was somewhat lacking. Likewise lacking are many of Matthew McConaughey’s previous choices as an actor. Given the circumstances, I can see why I was hesitant at first to dive into Mud but, man, am I kicking myself for not seeing it sooner.
Mud is a movie made up of several different layers, all of which fully deliver. A coming of age story in which our young protagonist, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) loses his naivete about life (particularly women) meshes beautifully with the big brother figure he finds in Mud (McConaughey) and the hunted criminal on the run story he has going on, all of this set against a backdrop of the Arkansas delta that’s both majestic and authentic.
So often with indies and character dramas, Take Shelter included, it seems the character strength comes at the expense of momentum in the story. There’s always a point, sometimes two, where the movie gets too lost in itself and thus loses me. It’s damn near impossible to take your eyes off Mud. The film is edited like clockwork and essentially tells you from the beginning what it’s building to, all while relishing in the grounded characters at hand and emotional setting. Not in a long while have I been so engaged for over two hours.
Not that I ever thought I’d say this, but it’s far from a fantasy to think that McConaughey could be up for some awards buzz in a few months — he’s honestly that good here. If the past two years have been his reinvention as a legit actor, this is the crown jewel. Our main kid, Tye Sheridan, is equally impressive, proving that child actors can pull their own weight and deliver as sturdy and fearless a performance as any of the adults. The main duo has some terrific backing from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Joe Don Baker, Ray McKinnon and Michael f*cking Shannon himself.
It would be impossible to go on listing off all the names of people who knocked it out of the park with this movie because it is a film where everyone is at the top of their game and firing on all cylinders. But if there needs to be a hero to this story, all credit must go to Nichols for writing a script with such maturity and depth and directing a movie that executes it to the greatest possible effect. If he continues to make movies like this, I am on the Nichols train for life.
My faith in indies has waned for a while now and this summer’s blockbuster crop wasn’t doing me many favors either. Whatever genre and whatever season it was released in, seeing Mud did me a solid and reminded me of one thing: there are still filmmakers out there making great, great movies.