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A Southern Story With Punch
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
Start with an infectious sense of place. ďMudĒ
unfolds in rural Arkansas around a river where people live in water rooted
shacks and scratch a living from selling oysters, fish, and reclaimed
junk. Subsistence life sets the tone for this unlikely country story. Itís
the kind of tale that builds in your imagination under the nimble touch of
writer/director, Jeff Nichols, a meandering southern story with punch. So
settle in and let it absorb you.
Sheridan) lives with his father and mother who are rolling through
increasing resentments toward separation. His friend Neckbone (Jacob
Lofland) lives with his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) who collects oysters
under a reconstituted helmet that allows him to stay under water while he
preoccupied broken families leave the boys free to explore their river.
They use an old outboard to journey into the wider water where they
explore an island and discover a boat in a tree, brought there, they
think, by a onetime flood. A loaf of fresh bread tells them they arenít
They meet Mud
(Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive from bounty hunters, who plays fair and
square with the boys except for a spun version of his emotional history.
The boys become Mudís assistants in renovating the boat with materials
they scavenge from the local junkyard.
Nichols has much more on his mind than a simple story of friendship
between two boys and their new friend. He will explore nothing less than
the motivating drives in human relationships. Ellis internalizes Mudís
tale of his lifelong love of Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and will do
anything he can to reunite them - ďbecause you love each other.Ē Itís not
quite that simple says Tom (Sam Shepard, majestically astride his
houseboat), an old friend of Mudís. Ellis chooses, at 14, a girlfriend of
his own who he will protect in the way Mud says he protected Juniper. For
Ellis, love and loyalty have become paramount in all friendships and he
assumes the role of protector of his new friends. We, in the meantime,
have become intrigued with every single one of them.
family reunite? Will Tom help Mud? Will Mud get caught? Can Ellis solve
the problems of this thoroughly unstable group? Because we care so much
about them, we want the movie to end before the seemingly inevitable bad
is visited on them.
you ask? Not really, and thatís because Tye Sheridan creates Ellis in such
a remarkable way that we would leap from our seats to protect him from
threat ourselves. This young actor manages to take his character from
child to adult in two hours, a remarkable feat for him, a rare experience
for us. Matthew McConaughey plays Mud with an unaccustomed restraint that
allows his duet with Tye Sheridan to unfold in unspoiled harmony. Director
Nichols has set a southern story in a metaphorical field of big questions
and his whole cast got the point.