Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray Mckinnon, and Sarah Paulson take up most of the screen time in Mud. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and directed Loving, Mud is a well-paced and well-acted film that steadily builds to its climax. Mud’s characters are so well-developed that supporting actors feel more intimately understood, and the film seems to use its characters full potential.
McConaughey’s performance is raw and authentic. His slow, rumbling voice and southern accent match his character’s unkempt appearance, and McConaughey appears to play a difficult role with ease. In 2012 McConaughey was no newcomer to Hollywood as he has had been headlining blockbuster films since the 1990’s. But, blockbuster films are typically bypassed by the Academy Awards.
Mud was overlooked at the 2013 Academy Awards, but McConaughey would not be overlooked in 2014 when he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dallas Buyer’s Club. Mud seemed to set off a new chapter in McConaughey’s career as the actor seemed to gravitate towards more complicated character roles like Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Mark Hanna in Wolf of Wall Street, and Rust Cohle in the True Detective series. In addition, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland give convincing performances in Mud, and the film uses its dialogue efficiently.
Besides its main theme of love, Mud explores life in rural Arkansas and vigilante justice. The movie captures beautiful shots of river life while subtlety questioning the righteousness of its characters. The justification of a regularly enforced crime is compared to a case of domestic violence, and the premise of one being enforced and the other ignored is convincing. The audience is treated to visuals of Arkansas country and rural river culture while grappling with their attitudes toward the films protagonists.
What Mud does best is explore romantic love across a spectrum of ages and situations. Young teenagers, married parents, adult singles, and an old widower all share their stories of love. Wisdom and foolishness mingle as the lines between right and wrong decisions seem to blur. Love itself is called into question.
Humans are social animals with the ability to shower or shatter one another with love. Reopening the wounds of a broken heart may develop deep scars that suppress the pulse of romantic feelings, but acts of kindness and words of encouragement can heal the naive hopes and vulnerable boldness of persistent love. Mud gives the audience a good glimpse of the complexities of life and love.
True concern for another’s well-being more than one’s own often means being willing to stay or leave – to hold tight or to let go. That means that true endearment frequently involves sacrificing one’s own desires. It also means that long-term romantic relationships can be often untidy and downright difficult. In a selfish world it may be futile to struggle for lasting love, but Mud advocates for endurance in the effort.