Mud cleans up McConaughey and Witherspoon’s résumés

Mud (Matthew McConaughey) will get the girls in, but * and * are the real stars

Mud (Matthew McConaughey) will get the girls in, but Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and Ellis (Tyle Sheridan) are the real stars.

This article first appeared on Farrago.

The movie poster boasts the names Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon and the film is all about love. But don’t let that give you any false impressions; Mud is actually quite a good film. Not that I would admit to having watched much of McConaughey or Witherspoon’s back catalogue, but one would presume this is among their finer efforts.

The title of Jeff Nichols’ film refers not to moist soil, but to McConaughey’s unusually named character. Mud dwells on a deserted island, surviving on intermittent cans of beans, and a seemingly endless supply of cigarettes. How he got there is anybody’s guess, but that only adds to his intrigue.

Mud is a criminal, on the run from the county sheriffs and the gangland community alike. More important to the story, however, is Mud’s relationship with 14-year-olds Ellis (Tyle Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who stumble across Mud on an innocent visit to the island. With their help, Mud concocts a plan to reunite with his estranged girlfriend–who happens to be the unequivocal love of his life.

While McConaughey delivers a convincing performance as the uncouth, yet earnest, hobo, the show stealer is protagonist Ellis, whose unlikely bond with Mud lays the foundations to this film.

Nichols makes no apologies for making love the focal point of the story. What results is both a heartbreaking and uplifting feature. The film places the idea of true love on a pedestal so high that none of the characters are able to reach it. Simultaneously, Mud teaches us about the temperamental dynamics of love, whereby a single event can shift a relationship in a dramatic fashion.

While Nichols isn’t subtle about his infatuation with love, he is subtle in the way he moulds and shapes his characters from scene to scene. The relationship between Ellis’ parents, for instance, is largely inconsequential to the film, but is a captivating subplot that mirrors the on-again off-again emotions of the film’s leads. Likewise, the interplay between the villain Carver (Paul Sparks) and his father (John Don Baker) lasts a scene or two, but is surprisingly poignant.

While Mud has a thrilling plot and delivers some suspenseful moments, the film’s appeal is not found in these tense scenes. Those hoping for an action-packed epic or a soppy McConaughey-Witherspoon romance might get some satisfaction out of Mud, but the film’s most responsive audience will simply be those able to appreciate good cinema.