There must be something in that Mississippi water… or maybe the South is finally remembering that they have stories to tell too.
With Beasts of the Southern Wild storming critics and the Academy last year, Mud has come along to deliver us a little bit more Southern magic, and by all accounts, everyone is loving it.
Mud is the story of two barely-teens, Ellis and Neckbone, who live on the Mississippi river in Arkansas. Free of overprotective parents and with that young, exploratory gumption they travel to an island in the river to find a boat stuck up in the tree. It is here that they come across Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey, who is a fugitive waiting for his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) to run away with him.
Director Jeff Nichols has made it known that this film was very much inspired by the work of Mark Twain, and you can definitely see the similarities. Like Twain, there’s a touch of the mystical in this film, mainly portrayed through Mud himself, who is deeply superstitious and a lover of tall tales. This element, while leaving many things unexplained, justifies how the plot progresses – the charm of Mud wins the audience over much in the same way as it does the young boys who drive the story.
It helps that the acting from everybody involved is rock solid. There’s always a lot of hate going around for McConaughey, but this is his role. Tales and Southern sayings fall out of his mouth, flowing like water. He breathes life into this character, where other actors would have left Mud feeling hokey and cliché. And yes, his shirt does come off. Haters gon’ hate.
Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, the boys at the centre of the movie, aren’t about to let McConaughey steal the show though. They hold up their end of the bargain admirably, by conveying an absolute realism and truth – a skill at which child actors so often fail.
It is also a beautiful film. Clean and sparkly it most certainly is not. However, it is dirty and bright – capturing this Arkansas world without fear. The cinematography just layers on the atmosphere to sell us on the premise.
In the end, this film is more about love than anything else, and while it ends with a good theme and treats all its heroes with respect, I do have one bone to pick. There was one point in the movie where there was a clearly defined line between men and women. It seemed to say, “Here are the men, who you have grown to know and love. They are good people, no? And over there are all the EVIL WOMEN WHO WON’T ACCEPT THEIR LOVE AND SO THEY RUIN EVERYTHING. THEY ARE TO BLAME! THEY ARE TO BLAME!”
Now, they do fix this. By the end of the film, most of the female characters are all shown to have perfectly good reasons for their choices. We understand that these women were put on an unrealistic pedestal and there was no way but down from there. But there is a part of the movie which was frustrating to watch because the point of view refuses to acknowledge that. We watch young Ellis developing the same opinion of his role models before him – “I loved you and you let me down”.
So, apart from that aspect which rankles my feminist tendencies, this film enthralled me. It captures a world and a time that is slowly disappearing and makes a legendary tale out of it.
Keep these magical dirty south movies coming, please.