Cannes review of Mud
MUD **** Directed by Jeff Nichols Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson 135 min, playing in competition Fans of Jeff Nichols’s first two pictures — Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter — …
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson
135 min, playing in competition
Fans of Jeff Nichols’s first two pictures — Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter — may be forced to share their hero with a wider world. After receiving critical acclaim, but small box-office returns, for those southern dramas, Jeff now launches a film featuring proper movie stars at the main competition at Cannes. Following two boys who set out to assist a charismatic fugitive, Mud is set in the familiar Nichols environment. After Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Paperboy, Cannes offers us yet another slice of thick Southern Gothic. The picture features beautifully rendered characters acting out a well-honed drama rich with cultural echoes: a bit of Whistle Down the Wind; something of The Go-Between, a great deal of Huck Finn. The film does, perhaps, feel a little bit less deliciously extravagant than his first two releases. But Nichols continues to develop as an artist.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) become excited when they encounter a small boat stranded spookily up a tree in the swamplands. They plan to make it their own, but soon discover that a rough, gun-toting wanderer named Mud has been using the vessel as a hideaway. Played with some assurance by an increasingly rehabilitated Matthew McConaughey — also to be seen here in The Paperboy — Mud claims that he has been forced to flee after killing the man who abused Juniper (Reese Witherspoon in a supporting role), his sometime girlfriend . Then the dead man’s slick, dangerous brother rides into town. The boys end up carrying messages from Mud to Juniper and, predictably enough, they soon learn that there are unrevealed nuances to their new friend’s version of the story.
Nichols once again imposes a suffocating, fug of oppressive heat over the action. The film moves like a preying mantis: very slowly until it turns to quick, savage outbreaks of violence. Though stuffed with troubling situations, Mud sometime feels like a superior story written for a young-adult audience. There is real empathy for the teenage experience here — an understanding that never becomes patronising. One misses the grand gestures of Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories, but Mud has a touching sweetness not present in the earlier films . Nichols’s opening salvos now form a superb, singular trilogy.