Director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols wowed us all in 2011 with Take Shelter and this year returns to Sundance Film Festival with Mud. Though Take Shelter was amazing, it was wonderful to see him return with something completely different, showing that he’s far more than a one trick pony, while still retaining a number of the qualities that we were first impressed by.

The Players:

Synopsis:

Ellis and Neckbone, two best friends who are approaching adolescence, venture into the hiding place of captivating outlaw Mud. Mud quickly connects with the boys, and decides to take them along with him on his search for true love and a safe escape to somewhere new.

The Good:

  • Tye Sheridan: This kid out-acts just all the pros around him. That’s not to say that others didn’t put in great work. Matthew McConaughey’s on a kick of doing the unexpected and really pushes himself with this film. It was nice to see Michael Shannon in another Nichols’ film with a completely different character, smiling and reassuring… but Tye Sheridan is fearless, effortless and he dominates this film.
  • The Look: Cinematographer Adam Stone returns from Take Shelter and once again beautifully captures the style, tone and feel of this film with the camera. You feel like you can smell the sweat on the characters and and dirt in the environment. Truly beautiful film.

The Bad:

  • Reese Witherspoon: We’ve seen her in these types of roles before (not for some time but she has) and she can be amazing, but this character just doesn’t add up. There’s no convincing arch to the role. She’s simply the damsel in distress that changes her mind constantly, while getting our favorite characters into trouble. It’s fine to play the foil, but there was nothing endearing or interesting about the role.
  • Perspective: The film starts out from one of the children’s perspectives, and although the story hints at it all being through his eyes, it loses track of it at times and needed to follow it through on it more. Nichols’ has taken us into the mind of a seriously ill man (or not?!) and he could have capitalized on whose story this was and whose perspective we were watching it through.
  • Too Much Dialogue: The film is so beautiful, the actors are really great, it seemed like there were just a few too many words on the page for them to say.

Overall:

Good film, worth seeing, interesting and beautiful to watch… just not all that I had hoped for walking into the theater. Perhaps my expectations got in the way of my experience.

Rating: 7/10