Mud is not an obvious film to be labelled great, but it remains sound and emotionally strong every time I dissect a section in my head. Jeff Nichols follows up his 2011 masterpiece Take Shelter with a film far less abstract and intense as that feature (although one just as detailed, running 130 minutes), one that acts as its own character study of a lost man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and a coming-of-age tale for a young boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan). Mud is hiding out on an island of sorts on the Mississippi River; this film feels like a fantasy tale wrapped in a crime thriller surrounded by a love story, and a simple one at that.
There are no unnecessary complexities to the film, no second-act plot twists, but only methodical storytelling and advances that establish Sheridan as a young actor to watch. McConaughey is terrific in the lead, surprisingly so, and Witherspoon does what she can with a limited role; she makes an impact, though. And even if the film does many other things correctly, like establish respect for women or give every character motivation and emotional understanding, it will remain in my head as a beautifully crafted realization of truths and self-revelations. The film’s quiet and omniscient, yet it doesn’t brag about it. It merely serves its purpose, finishes its wonderful story, and reminds me that great films can always surprise us with their subtleties.