The following conversation happened before I went to sleep last night:
My wife: "Don't dream about Matthew McConaughey while you sleep."
Me: "Why would I?"
My wife: "I don't know, I just feel like everyone dreams about Matthew McConaughey when they sleep."
I remain curious as to what would spur a mini-discussion like this on. Maybe she thinks Matthew McConaughey is a guy that men want to be like and women want to be with, or perhaps McConaughey has been recently doing a good job in selecting roles which are different stretches of his ability, with a box office smash perhaps sprinkled in for good measure. His latest film Mud is another intriguing choice of roles for the actor.
The film is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, his follow-up to a breakout work of sorts from The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Ellis' family is Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson, New Year's Eve) and Senior (Ray McKinnon, Bug), who dives for clams. When the boys run into Mud, they find out that he wants to not only leave the area and avoid the police and local hit men who wish to take him out, but he wants to bring Juniper (Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line) with him.
The film is often marketed as one where McConaughey rules the roost, and he does spend a good deal of time onscreen, But the story is one that Sheridan and to a lesser degree Lofland carry. And as Ellis, seeing Sheridan transform as a seemingly quiet kid to one with more confidence and bravado as he spends more time with Mud is fascinating and pleasant to watch. The chemistry that he and first-timer Lofland share with one another is impressive. The boys are certainly weathered from the environment around them and have a veil of interdependency and loyalty among one another. In one sequence, the two boys talk about a girl that they know that one of them is ‘dating,' and Neckbone is asking Ellis about her, with Ellis maybe embellishing a detail or two. It is the type of scene I am willing to bet that young boys replicated through the generations.
The above the title actors also turn in good performances. Witherspoon, albeit briefly in the film is solid, and McConaughey spins an occasional yarn in the introductory scenes with him and the boys, but as Ellis evolves in Nichols' story, so does Mud. Mud would seemingly be some fearsome guy upon first glance, but the more we learn about him, he is just a guy who would apparently be deeply in love with Juniper and just wants to be with her, with the purest intentions until something possibly went wrong. We feel that sensitivity within McConaughey and that is to his credit. The supporting cast all lend a sense of believability to their respective roles, and rounding out the cast includes Sam Shepard (Cape Fear). In a way they (along with McKinnon) seem like stunt choices similar to Quentin Tarantino on the surface, but like Tarantino, Nichols gets a lot of mileage out of their small time on screen.
The casting decisions are part of a formidable vision. Nichols makes the film so uniquely authentic and genuine, the only thing missing from this clearly personal (to him, perhaps) Southern experience is a deep fryer. With the help of Adam Stone's cinematography and David Wingo's score, it makes the viewer feel as if they are dropped right in the middle of the country and the boy's lives. Say what you will about Nichols' continued work with Shannon in films, but Stone and Wingo have also worked with Nichols on multiple productions, and their contributions in this film are just as worthy of special praise of their own, making for a fascinating experience on each of Nichols' projects.
Ultimately, Mud is yet another excellent work from Nichols, and the performances of the stars of the film (particularly Sheridan's) are very good and well worth the viewing. The film is a touch long and the ending is slightly arbitrary yet both acts are easily forgivable at the end of the day. And one thing is for sure, I will never appreciate "Help Me Rhonda" the same way ever again. Seek the film out while in theaters and if it is not accessible, definitely find it on the usual video outlets.