Matthew McConaughey is an actor that improves with every new film. I felt that in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) his portrayal of defence lawyer Mickey Haller gave him a chance to leave his lightweight roles behind and to be fair he grabbed the chance with both hands. In William Friedkin’s Killer Joe he plays the lead role with sinisterly threatening menace and along with Juno Temple made this one of the best films of 2012. Playing opposite an ultra sexy Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy (2012) brought the role of Ward Jansen, a Miami Times investigative journalist, to life.
My latest opportunity to evaluate his body of work was in Mud (2012) where he plays the love-obsessed outlaw of the title in a film that’s seen from the viewpoint of two 14-year-old boys. Ellis and his friend Neckbone travel to a deserted river island to make a secret ‘camp’ in a boat that has been lodged up a tree from a storm, there living in the boat they find a man called Mud. He tells them that he killed a man in Texas that was beating a pregnant woman, the same women he has been in love with since he was at school with her. He goes on to tell them how he plans to renovate the boat so he can meet with Juniper and escape into the sunset. The boys agree to help him by transporting food and equipment to the island but what they don’t know is that the murdered mans family, along with some bounty hunters are following Juniper with the aim of flushing out Mud and carrying out their own form of retribution.
This coming of age adventure drama, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is set on the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and brings to mind the Mark Twain novels of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, a character that was based on Twains boyhood friend Tom Blankenship and the name of a character in the film played by the great Sam Shepard (Blackthorn 2011)!
A movie about the power of love and how it lets you down if you believe in it too much but one that is surprisingly male dominated in which women are shown as untrustworthy and hard to pin down. This rich slice of Americana has a great script that goes far deeper than the adventure story it appears to be on the surface. A large pat on the back must go to DOP Adam Stone for making it such a good-looking picture. But it’s the acting that really makes this film stand out with McConaughey in his most watchable role to date but one that’s nearly upstaged by the raw talent of 16-year-old Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life 2010) who plays Ellis; Neckbone is played by Jacob Lofland who appears to be a natural actor in only his debut feature film. The movie also includes Reese Witherspoon as Juniper, Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s Uncle Galen and the veteran actor Joe Don Baker as King the father of the man Mud killed. Certainly one of the best and most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year from a director who shows great promise.