Matthew McConaughey is back as a sweaty, unwashed, good ol’ boy. This time, however, he barely ever takes off his shirt and hands in one of his best performances as the eponymous character of a really solid indie drama.14-year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan, Tree of Life) and his friend Neckbone find an abandoned boat on an island and declare it their own. When they find a mysterious man named Mud (McConaughey, Magic Mike) living in it, they slowly start to help him by bringing him food and getting messages to his lost love (Reese Witherspoon, Water for Elephants). When they find out he’s a wanted man, they become more and more entangled in a web of danger, romance, loyalties, and crime.
It’s so rare to find a movie filled with what seem to be real people. Every actor in Mud nails it. The dialogue is perfect, the tone is perfect, and the locations are perfect. Everything feels so natural and lived in, which is really difficult to pull off.
The writing is excellent. Everything writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) sets up, he pays off. His characters are earnest and hardworking (if not a little mouthy), they say what they mean, and they scrape by making a living off the river, a life none of us would recognize around here, but it’s fascinating to visit. As a director, he comes through too. The flick is expertly paced and he manages to wrap and awful lot of tension, subtle humor, and action into what’s essentially a two-and-a-half hour character piece. His last film was a little too slow for my taste, but he showed a lot of promise. Mud makes good on that promise.
Even the supporting cast is fleshed out with a bunch of great character actors like Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Joe Don Baker, and Ray McKinnon. But it’s the two teenage boys and McConaughey that really deliver. They make it all look so easy. And though McConaughey is still a pseudo-wisdom spouting country boy, he’s a brand we haven’t seen before and he’s physically disguised under a layer of grime, a gnarly tattoo, and a set of jacked-up teeth. It’s actually pretty amazing he can make all of that still seem charming.
This is a flick about tragically romantic men and the potentially poisonous women they worship. So, yes, the view of women is a little skewed, but this is a movie told from the point of view of a 14-year-old boy. It’s dead on.