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Mud: The Rise of Jeff Nichols

May 16, 2013

Mud movie poster

Mud is the best film of 2013 (so far).  It is an instant classic that relies on authenticity, three dimensional characters and vivid scenery to tell a wonderful story. It also proves that a poster featuring a man grabbing something from his back doesn’t have to be bad.


Mud tells the story of two boys who meet a man named Mud. They find him on an island off the Mississippi that is home to a boat in a tree.  They become quick friends and make a deal for the boat. The boys will get Mud food and keep his whereabouts secret and he will let them have his gun and tree boat when he leaves. What follows is a neat story about love, loss and growing up. The film has drawn many “modern day Huckleberry Finn” comparisons and the similarities are there. However, the movie should be appreciated on it’s own unique merits. Mud doesn’t feel self important and has a respect for the geography. It is told with humility and understanding by a man who is finding his footing in the American cinematic landscape.

Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter) has excelled at  creating soulful characters and insular stories. His characters are not motivated by greed or selfishness and thus their problems feel universal. The central characters deal with protecting their families, mental illness or growing up too fast.  His films pack a realistic punch, show off vivid geographical detail and close attention to characters. Stereotypes are non-existent and the focus on family is always strong.

Nichol’s was recently was interviewed by Empire magazine and he explained his films:

  “I’m trying to make classic films. Films with Scope. Each one has to have it’s own purpose in the world.” Take Shelter’s purpose was “to tell you more about yourself than the movie and to place the decision in the audience’s head, rather than just givin’ it to ’em.

His films do not have an epic scope or feature twirling in corn fields (nothing wrong with that). They feature snapshots of time that involve important moments. The setting may be small but divorce, lost love or a first kiss are huge in factors in life. Nichol’s tells his films with a laid-back grace that doesn’t pander to familiar tropes yet doesn’t push the Kubrickian limits.

Mud cast

The reason this film works is because Nichol’s understands the world and dives deep into character. It is easy to see why the kids would help Mud. Matthew McConaughey infuses the character with charm and a sense of danger. Also, the two kids are dealing with their families splitting apart or never having one at all. They meet Mud at the right moment and the three of them go on a neat adventure. While watching you feel the breeze, fear the snakes and can swear a mosquito is buzzing around you. Nichol’s knows how to bring you into his cinematic world and engross you in middle America.

I hope a younger audience discovers this film and learns something from the two kids. They search, build and approach the world with an adventurous spirit. I remember when movies used to feature kids going on adventures not involving dragons or beanstalks. Remember Stand By Me, Goonies or Home Alone? I grew up with that DIY youthfulness and I always appreciate movies like this.

Watch Mud. Appreciate the adventure. Watch Take Shelter. Listen to Lucero.

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