Mud, from Jeff Nichols.
It’s a hard film for me to describe, really. Somehow, it retains a distinctive personality despite an abundance of obvious predecessors and influences. Imagine Huck Finn meets Flannery O’Connor, with a dash of Faulkner, a pinch of True Grit, a bit of Noah — No, not THAT Noah! — and a smidge of Robinson Crusoe. It’s a strange and mysterious work, with fantastical ingredients bubbling just under the surface, a host of peculiar, often unlikable characters, a heady mixture of Southern charm and Southern suffering, and an astonishing sure-handedness on the part of its (disconcertingly young) director.
For some time now, I’ve been workin’ on a semi-coherent piece on a growing list of films I like to call Hillbilly Noir — because O’Connor — and Nichols, the Arkansian Wunderkind, is front-and-center. He’s a real “Draft-And-Follow” for me. (Also, no. I didn’t make that term up. I’m just…borrowing it.)
Two Mississippi teens meet peculiar drifter Mud and get caught up in his web of tall tales about lost love, crimes of passion and bounty hunters.
That trailer will help give you an idea of the hypnotic vibe and vibrancy that is one of the things I most love about Hillbilly Noir (in general), and this film (in particular). It will also give you an idea of the things that make it noir-ish — the darkness; the violence; the grey; the moments of grace that are some of the other things I most love in this “genre,” and in Nichol’s film(s).
But that’s not all I love.
I love the script, especially the seeds it plants in the early going, and the way Mud and Ellis mirror one another, and especially the ways in which they are different despite their similarities. I love the way it uses McConaughey’s undeniable charisma to its advantage, leaving us unsettled and unsure as to his motives and morality, but compelling us to love him none the less.
I love Ray McKinnon, who never gets the attention he deserves. I love Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, because nothing is harder than acting like a kid in a movie for adults. I love Shepard and Shannon (but then, I always love Shepard and Shannon). And I even found myself enjoying Witherspoon (whose playing a very atypical role, and who disappears into said role with a surprising amount of completeness, given her usual A-List Obviousness.)
I love Adam Stone’s cinematography, restrained, yes, yet very effective and very beautiful; I love David Wingo’s atmospheric score, (which comes as no surprise, given my affection for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of Nichol’s Take Shelter); I love the way it somehow manages to be simultaneously gritty and gentle — again with the strange, hypnotic tone — and I love the way Jeff Nichols’ brother (Ben) and his band (Lucero) are threaded throughout the film.
But you know what I love most of all?
I’ve seen it described as too pat, too Hollywood, too violent, too undeserved.
But I think it’s just about perfect.
You can call me a hobo ‘cause a hobo’ll work for his living and you can call me homeless ‘cause that’s true for now, but if you call me a bum again I’ll have to teach you somethin’ about respect that your daddy never did.