Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland
The film begins with two teenage boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who discover a boat in a tree on a nearby island. It’s something that kids like these marvel at as some kind of miracle, but adults would vision it as the result of a disastrous storm or flood. It doesn’t take too long for the kids to realize someone has been living there. This man goes by the name Mud. He’s mysterious but charming, a quality that reels in Ellis even though Neckbone doesn’t trust him.
In the poor Arkansas community, Ellis lives with his parents on a houseboat and helps his father sell catfish door to door. The single most important thing that drives Ellis throughout the film is his perception of love. His parents are going through a divorce and his idea of love is confused and broken. But as Mud reveals more and more about himself, Ellis turns his attention to what he believes is to be true love, something that Mud is fighting for.
What I loved about the coming-of-age story so much was how the teenage boys’ ideals contrasted each other. Ellis is the protagonist who is going through a tough situation during the divorce of his parents, given him a very negative perspective on love. But his youth and good heart keeps his belief strong that love exists. With Neckbone, he never even knew his parents so he’s far past the belief that love is something real. Their contrast blankets the entire movie from the moment they meet Mud to the final scene. Neckbone doesn’t change but Ellis goes through a great transformation.
Matthew McConaughey gives a memorable performance as the hopeful outlaw stranded on an island. Dirty, crass, but with a good heart, McConaughey’s Mud is someone easy to sympathize with, but also hard to trust. He’s never stereotyped with the number of troubled southerners we’ve seen in movies before, and this is because of how deep McConaughey digs into Mud. Going toe-to-toe with him, Tye Sheridon gives life to the movie. Being the teenage protagonist, we’re able to see through his eyes of a poverty-stricken world and the people and ideas he clings to.
Overall, this is a movie that balances drama, suspense, and the central theme of love in a stripped down setting, utilizing its greatest asset: the characters. Nichols does a great job displaying the natural beauty surrounding the community, along with understanding every character’s motivations as we watch the cause-and-effect unfold. This is without a doubt one of the most memorable films in the first half of the year.