If you’re a film fan and you haven’t heard of writer-director Jeff Nichols yet, well, you have not been paying attention close enough. Making his debut film just over ten years ago, Shotgun Stories was one I picked up in my video store days, a well written volatile story with a blistering performance from Michael Shannon. Nichol’s leading man would be consistent for him, playing in the rest of the films on his resume in some way or another, and eliciting an amazing performance from Shannon is as easy for him as breathing. Shannon isn’t the only person to benefit from this masterful filmmaker as Nichols work also elevates any actor or actress that works with him. Case in point is my film focus this week, Mud starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon which celebrates its five year anniversary as I write this.
The film follows two young boys, played by Jacob Lofland and the now wildly popular Ready Player One star Ty Sheridan, who encounter a possibly dangerous drifter (McConaughey) on their daily journey to a little island along the Mississippi River who says his name is Mud (insert Primus joke here). The boys start up a fast friendship with him, bringing him food and supplies, eventually getting the story of why he came to be on the island. Mud is waiting for the love of his life, a woman named Juniper (Witherspoon) with bird tattoos on her hands, who he pines for every day. The boys decide to help their new found friend by trying to orchestrate a reunion between the two.
Mud is a film that McConaughey shot during the best part of his career so far, one lovingly dubbed the “ReConaughsance” where he has a career resurgence that earned him an Academy Award. Nestled in there was this raw gem of a performance that has the Texas actor wearing his emotions on his sleeve and Reese Witherspoon gives possibly my favorite showing of her career aside from Walk The Line. This film is all about character but deeper than that it’s about the history of these characters and what effect it has on their present and future. This results in a heartwarmingly Southern tale that has no bloat and no filler.
As Jeff Nichols continues to cement himself as one of the best filmmakers working today, his last films being the brilliant biopic Loving and the southern fried Spielberg sci-fi film Midnight Special, there are more and more people discovering him every day. Mud, I feel, is a great introduction piece to his writing and character building in a straightforward drama before you get into something more cerebral, especially his second flick, the brilliantly paranoid Take Shelter. It’s a creator like him and a film like this that sticks in your mind as the more belly satisfying cinema, one that you can chew on and break down long after the end credits have hit the screen.