Mississippi River in the Arkansas State


25 April 2013| No Comments on Mud     by Sean Chavel


I appreciated it thoroughly, and for a few moments was even enthralled by it. Mud is another impressive entry for the on-fire career makeover of Matthew McConaughey, but it should also be recognized as a breakthrough film for writer-director Jeff Nichols. It’s peculiar that I didn’t like his first two movies (“Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter”) but I admired them. Perhaps it was the pretentious anti-climactic endings of them both. But his newest has a well-drawn ending and a dazzling final shot. It also, as a whole film, takes on the breadth of a stupendous novel.

Nichols has said that he was inspired by Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” But I also see Charles Dicken’s “Great Expectations” influence here. McConaughey is the titular Mud, who lives up on a boat stuck in a tree somewhere deep past the Mississippi River. He is either a derelict or a man on retreat. Soon Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find out.

Gutsy and precocious, 14-year Ellis is the essential character here. He lives on a broken down river boat with his pending divorce parents. He is as resourceful as any kid in cinema since 2008’s “Chop Shop” and he is out to make an imprint in the world. SPOILER ALERT: Ellis knows Mud is dangerous, but he is touched by Mud’s devotion to Juniper (Reese Witherspoon, in short shorts), who is pinned to a motel room, and becomes a messenger to them both. It becomes known that bounty hunters (and law enforcement agencies) are after Mud, and they are waiting on Juniper to make a move.

With an abundance of pluck, Ellis is not afraid of anything. When another boy, older than he, “steals” his girlfriend he charges right at him and throws a pot shot knowing he’s going to get hit back five times harder. Ellis though is no imbecilic ruffian, he belongs in the advanced school of Christian Bale and Jamie Bell of smart kids.

Ellis is ahead of the game – the game of life – in making transactions, fixing up a boat, confronting face-to-face with vigilantes, approaching girls without embarrassment. After the final fade to black, our minds can project ahead and see that Ellis is going to be one amazing accomplished human being in the short years ahead. Yes I see it: He is a modern Pip from “Great Expectations.”

Nichols definitely loves his young actors Sheridan and Lofland. He loves the rest of his cast as well, a little too much. His film rambles on a bit here and there, and he embellishes nuance too generously. However, this is an engrossing film with novel characters and natural wonders of the River. And the primary shoot-out is just fine – classically shot in a way that shames over-jacked and indistinct Hollywood movies that are too chaotic. “Mud” takes its time, but I will remember it fondly.

130 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Shy People” (1987); “Great Expectations” (1998); “Undertow” (2004); “Ballast” (2008).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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