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Mud Review: Trouble on the Mississippi
Mud is the story of Ellis and Neckbone, two boys who discover a man named Mud hiding out in a boat that’s stuck in a tree on an island in the Mississippi. Mud is a shady but not scary guy, who teaches the boys about avoiding bad luck by smoking it out and other superstitious stuff. As to why Mud lives in a treed boat on an island in the middle of a river, the answer isn’t a secret. Mud shot a man in Texas to protect the love of his life, Juniper. He’s hiding out on the island waiting for her, so that they can escape together.
It’s not quite that simple of course. The relationship between Mud and Juniper is akin to that of Forest Gump and his Jenny; so she pretty much uses him to get out of trouble spots, only this time there are deeper and more dangerous consequences to her actions.
Ellis and his parents live on a houseboat and sell fish for a living. Neckbone lives in a trailer with his uncle. They also make their living on the river, harvesting shellfish from the muddy bottom. When not helping with the family businesses, the boys roam the water in a boat.
There’s a lot going on in Mud, which is part coming-of-age and part adventure story.
Matthew McConaughey manages to play Mud as likeable if a bit creepy. His character isn’t book smart, but he’s got a backwoods know-how that appeals to Ellis and Neckbone. He ends up being something of a role model to Ellis, who takes the love story of Mud and Juniper and applies it to his own ideas of romance. He learns a few hard lessons because of it. Neckbone is like Mud in some ways, self-reliant but he’s also smarter and more sarcastic than either Mud or Ellis. Living with his uncle has given him a glimpse into the adult world that Ellis hasn’t ever had.
Michael Shannon plays Neckbone’s uncle, a well-meaning but slightly off character. He’s a lot of the comic relief of the movie, digging for his clams in a diving helmet made from what looks like a large pot and some weights from a dumbbell. This is a character as far removed from Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire as you could possibly get, and I enjoyed seeing him play a slightly comedic role after watching him as the stern Van Alden for so long.
If there’s any real problem with Mud, it’s that the pacing sometimes moves as slowly as the river on a lazy day. Things take a long time to happen, and there’s not a lot of tension throughout most of the movie. I realize this isn’t supposed to be a thriller, and the pace does pick up a lot at the end of the film, but I felt like Mud sometimes, waiting out there on his lonely island, hoping that Juniper would come to him somehow.
Things start to move a little with the arrival of the bounty hunters that are looking for Mud. They’re smart enough to stake out Juniper’s apartment but not so bright that they think to follow Ellis and Juniper to see where Mud’s hiding. I’m not sure if I expected them to think of it because I knew that they were helping Mud or not. I think there was enough evidence in the film that the boys knew something about Mud for the bounty hunters to follow them. There is a reckoning between the bounty hunters and Mud at the end of the film, and while Jeff Nichols, the director, could’ve left things hanging for the audience in certain respects, he doesn’t.