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Film Four Stars
Matthew McConaughey is a strange actor. He's one of these actors who have bags of talent but have been happy enough to pick romantic roles and earn money and recognition from the light hearted fare that offers little and probably taxes him even less. So it’s always exciting to see him in a role where he has a real character to deliver in a story that is more than just some woman reluctantly falling in love with him. He's a very good actor and that was one of the main reasons I came to the film.

There were other reasons too. There was the writing and direction of Jeff Nichols who also wrote and directed Take Shelter (Filmstalker review) with Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and here we were going to see Shannon again along with the rest of the supporting cast of Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard, the other reasons.

Now if that hadn't caught your attention and made it stand out from the other cinema offerings then you should be keeping those 3D glasses where they are, turn your attention back to the brightly coloured, fast moving action in front of you, and get yourself back into your daze. Otherwise, get up and off to see Mud and get your brain and heart engaged.

Plot.pngMud.jpgTwo teenage boys live nearby a river in Arkansas. One boy's parents struggled to make a living catching and selling fish while the other's Uncle catches oysters by hand. They live a poor but happy existence enjoying the innocence of their youth, until they discover a boat which has been stranded on an island, high in a tree after a terrible flood hit. Living by the boat is a man called Mud who happens to be on the run from the police. He tells them he's running because of love and captures their imaginations, and before long they're helping him find the woman he's waiting for and recover the boat for his escape.

TheFilm.pngThe first great thing about Mud is Matthew McConaughey. I've said quite a bit in the past that he's a cracking actor, really strong, but for whatever reason he's always appearing in pretty easy roles playing up to his chest, his face and his sexy drawl. When he gets a role he can really get his teeth into he does deliver and often excels in the character roles. Here, with Jeff Nichols script, he has a very good role to get into and while there is a romantic relationship in the storyline it's nothing that you'd expect from a McConaughey film, and that's fantastic news.

McConaughey is excellent and he draws the audience into his character and story as much as he does the two teenage characters. I was wary and unconvinced to begin with, more than the teenagers were but then I was expecting the character to turn a certain way, the surprise is that the story gives both the teenagers and the audience plenty to back up his story and you’ll soon find yourself as convinced as they are. Our trust and belief grows with them and that's vital for later in the story when doubts creep in and the innocence of all the characters, and of us, begins to be tested.

The performance from the both boys is strong but it's the lead of Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan, that steals it from the wonderfully named Neckbone, played by Jacob Lofland. He's a very believable character who you find connecting with throughout the film. He took you with him on his journey and it made his loss of innocence that much more poignant and indeed painful. Thanks to the writing of Jeff Nichols I found I could connect easily with the boy even though my younger life couldn't be further away from his.

Nichols writing has delivered a story that is slow building and never seems to go the way you expected, managing to find some surprises for the audience without huge moments. The story keeps the focus on the teenage boy, his home life, and his relationship with this newly discovered stranger, all of which helps us experience the world through the eyes of the boy.

It is a story about the loss of innocence and not just from the teenagers but from the main characters around them that of Mud, his father, his mother, Mud's girlfriend and to some degree the strange old man across the river. They all lose something that they naively believed in, or wanted to believe in, and for the main characters they are losses you can feel and understand. In a way it made me think of E.T. but a lot more grown up, and with a story based firmly in a harder reality of today's life.

I did really enjoy the way that the story developed and built the threads of the main characters each of whom lost their own sense of innocence, no matter who far from innocent they seemed - even the ex-soldier has his moment. There isn't an over telling of the story either, something I find is all too often apparent in thrillers and dramas from Hollywood or that carry such a list of strong names behind it. Again this is where Nichols has delivered.

There's a strong sense of pace in the storytelling and while it never reveals too much about the past of the out of town characters or the river neighbour, neither does it feel the need to explain actions or intentions for them. We aren't treated to flashbacks and wordy explanations of what happened to Mud or his girlfriend, instead the back story comes to the audience at the same pace it does with the main character and as a result we have the same experience of not knowing if Mud is indeed speaking the truth.

I do love it when an audience is credited with intelligence and allowed to experience a film as a character does. All too often films treat the audience differently to the main characters and feed them additional information to try and explain what's happening when it isn’t needed. With Mud we experience the story as our main character Ellis does and we have moments of realisation and understanding as he does, experiencing the loss as it happens to him. This makes a film so much better for most audiences who don't just want giant fighting robots in 3D, and Mud does it superbly well.

There's a great ending to the film too. I had heard someone say that they didn't feel the ending really was an ending, far from it I see that the main characters have reached a common understanding about their lives. This is something which shows how strong the writing is considering the different ages and motivations of the characters. The ending does deliver a strange moment that has a hint of being a little twee but it doesn't go too far and the story does feel like it needs this scene, and it does deliver an ending, as well as a beginning.

Overall.pngMud is a great film that sees Matthew McConaughey delivering a great character performance and not just the usual muscular love interest. He's not the main attraction here as that actually falls to Tye Sheridan who plays Ellis, he's the focus of the film and does a superb job, and he’s a surprisingly strong young actor. The script is the real star though and the relationship it builds between the two leads and how it develops their stories is what really holds your attention and builds a powerful core for the film.

Jeff Nichols does a great job delivering another strong dramatic story with attractive and interesting characters with superbly written relationships and an intriguing story that keeps your attention. It sides you with the young leading character and not only do you connect with him but you understand his attraction to this character and experience his story through his eyes.

While Mud doesn't explode and shower you with a frenetic paced thriller it does have its moments and the power of the film, much like Take Shelter (Filmstalker review), comes through the characters and their stories. With McConaughey on great form backed by some great names giving equally strong performances and a superb young actor, Mud is a recommended film.

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