“Mud” gets lost in the mire of unbelievability

Jeff Nichol’s latest movie “Mud” has an interesting plot, but is hardly Oscar worthy.



Mack Hayden, Writer

Jeff Nichols is a new director celebrated for everything he does. His debut film, “Shotgun Stories,” was named one of Roger Ebert’s favorite movies of 2007. And Nichols was only 29 when he made it. 2011’s “Take Shelter” was a haunting take on disaster, mental illness and paranoia. His direction helped Michael Shannon deliver one of the best performances of the year, one many critics were upset was snubbed at the Oscars. Now, he comes to us with his take on the Southern Gothic. “Mud” stars Matthew McConaughey, it’s receiving almost universal acclaim from critics — and I just don’t get it.


The story revolves around two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), caught in the throes of early adolescence. The former’s parents are thinking about separation and the latter’s parents are long gone, leaving him to live with his caring but oddball uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon). After exploring what seems to be a deserted island, they come upon a benevolent fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He’s hiding out because he’s wanted for killing the man who beat up on the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). The whole film then becomes an odyssey for the boys to reunite the two lovers, in the face of a manhunt for Mud fronted by the family of the man he killed.

The acting is the film’s strongest point. Oscar nods would seem a little much but it’s nice to see McConaughey proving he’s not only the go-to guy for when you need a rugged Texan. His performances are always surprisingly well-acted even though it’s easy to pigeonhole him as someone who wants to take his shirt off in every movie. Which he does in this movie too, but c’est la vie. The two young boys are worth keeping an eye on too, and “Mud” seems to be a sign they have a decent career ahead of them. Witherspoon doesn’t really bring any zest to the screen and, given how much of a bombshell her character’s supposed to be, she hardly conveys what makes her so irresistible.


“Mud” competed for the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival, so it’s hard to call something like this a “bad” movie in any sense of the word. But some of the plot holes and unbelievable circumstances the characters find themselves in are too absurd to watch without laughing. One of the young kids decks a high school senior for hitting on a girl he likes at the start of the movie and the senior doesn’t even retaliate. It doesn’t matter that he’s twice his size and visibly stronger — this is just how real life would go, right? There are a few other occurrences like that which are legitimately distracting; how could Nichols watch this and think it added to the believability of the story he was weaving?

There’s something to be said for the impossibility of true originality in the world of art at this point. Every story has been told, at least to some degree, before. Still, the strangest sensation of watching “Mud” was feeling like I’d seen it all before. It’s a Mark Twain Southern river story plagued by cliches and tropes which undercut what could have made the film truly original. Where “Take Shelter” was a film with a sense of suspense and foreboding Hitchcock would have been proud of, Nichols can’t get “Mud” to inspire the way he wants it to. Who knows? Maybe Matthew McConaughey should’ve just taken his shirt off more.

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