Mud is the story about a two boys who stumble upon a man living out on an island in the local river and their attempt to help him. It’s a slow-moving drama where the acting is great but the pace is off. In the ‘biz’ I guess this would be called an ‘art-house’ movie or an ‘Indy’.
Matthew McCanoughy and Reese Witherspoon deliver incredible performances and the script deals with some great themes – love, loyalty, marriage, revenge, and failed expectations – and does so in deep scenes with no hint of saccharin. If anyone thought Witherspoon was just another gorgeous blonde designed for Rom-Coms and not much else – they need to take a look at her performance here. (Although the attempts of the director to ugly her up failed miserably. Is this even possible?) The film explores what real love looks like between three key relationships – Mud & Juniper; Ellis and May Pearl, and Ellis’ parents. The acting is top-notch from the two boys – Neck and Ellis – as they carry the load of the film.
The cinematography is also top shelf although at times a bit nostalgic. The long, slow shots of the rivers, creeks, hollers, and woods of Arkansas are beautiful and will find a sweet spot for those of us who have had the privilege of living in the beautiful state of Arkansas. But with the movie clocking in at over 2 hours, some editing needed to be done.
Speaking of editing, this is where the film stumbles. There is a shoot-out at the end of the movie that seems forced. This is not as big of an issue as about a 30 minute stretch halfway through the film where you aren’t really sure where in the world the movie is going. Besides that, you are quite sure at that pace it will never get there either. The core of the story is outstanding, the acting is superb. It just takes forever to get anywhere. Perhaps that was the purpose – to immerse the viewer into the pace of life on the river.
It was an act of discipline to stay with this movie to the end which is not exactly how I like to watch movies. The big question then is was it worth it? Was the payoff at the end of the movie worthy of the slow pace?
This is the conundrum of the film. It was ‘good’ but I would not choose to watch it again. The themes and issues it deals with and even how they are dealt with are absolutely worthy of a great post-film discussion. But I’m not sure how many people will stick with the film in that crucial 30 minute stretch.
Its on Netflix, so it’s easy to access – just know you are going to have to want to finish this film in order to finish it.