Cannes 2012: Mud

The festival goes out with a plop instead of a pow.

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Mud

Mud


There are two versions of the American South that you usually see on screen: the “Hollywood” South, a series of rural backwoods filled with rednecks, racists, peckerwoods, hillbillies, good ol’ boys, juke-joint drunks and other such quaint caricatures; and the lived-in South of regional indies, featuring the sort of landscapes and residents that you’re more likely to witness from your car window or front porch. That rarer second option was what you got in Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols’s 2007 debut about violence and vengeance in small-town Arkansas. You could practically smell the rusty metal and sweat wafting off the celluloid, and the film immediately established its location with a genuine sense of place, as opposed to treating it like a back-lot set spiced with “local” color. (Nichols’s breakthrough follow-up, 2011’s Take Shelter, may take place in Ohio, but its rhythms and rural landscapes suggest a strong Southern perspective behind the camera.)

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Cannes Film Festival


You get glimpses of that second screen South in Mud, the writer-director’s third movie and the first to be chosen for le grand show of Cannes’ competition, especially in its quieter moments. But somehow, a pervading sense of that first manufactured South hangs over every scene, and the difference between this and Nichols’s older works is practically night and day. An odd mix of coming-of-age story and pulp thriller, the film centers on 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a typical kid prone to running around the woods and running away from his bickering parents. He and his buddy come across a boat in a tree, the product of some long-ago biblical flood; they then meet the guy living in it, a grimy drifter who answers to the name of Mud (Matthew McConaughey). This vagrant is waiting on a girl—Reese Witherspoon’s no-good floozy, to be precise—but there’s a whole lotta backstory standing between them. You know the drill: a murder, some mob types, the law, etc. If the lads help Mud get the boat down, he can get to the Mexican border. If not, there’s a bullet with his name on it.

What sounds like Huckleberry Finn on the page, however, ends up like a stock melodrama onscreen, with McConaughey’s nature boy coming off like a moody, brooding fratboy. It isn’t the actor’s fault per se—he’s one of the few working actors who you believe could actually live off the land, thousands of miles away from the nearest Bel Air mansion—but his Mud is purely a screenwriter’s creation, a lazy sketch of an archetype. Still, compared with the teen angst over a first love and a tacked-on shoot-out at the end, McConaughey’s gnarly, shirtless (of course) fuck-up with a heart of gold feels practically Faulkneresque. It’s a whimpering end to a bang-up 2012 Cannes, but hey: There’s always next year.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear


Users say

11 comments
Shane Holohan
Shane Holohan

Agree entirely. The only pleasure I got from this film was laughing at its every obvious turn. Comparisons to Stand by Me abound - the casting in particular. But SBM is one of the finest films ever made, underpinned with brilliant writing - this is neither well shot nor well written. Every character tells the truth, every outcome is obvious, and I didn't believe any of the characters. And as beautiful as the golden hour light is there were numerous shots where this light was randomly absent creating bizarre continuity jumps. By the time the final scene, which exactly mirrored the opening scene, arrived I felt like screaming ...ok, ok I get it. Heavy handed and obvious throughout.

your mom
your mom

Critic here has a "small" point, to a degree and credit, but obviously has too much time on his hands. Fat and pale I bet. For a conventional movie goer, trying to make a night worthy from work and kids, to escape, sit down and watch this, was easy and too good to not get pulled in to the story line. Stop being so critical about things - I bet you are critical about everything...your breakfast sandwich, etc. It's an easy plot that stands it's own being so simple, and even with McChest as the lead, the kids shine and the movie deserves a good rating, which if you look, seems to get most others' input.

California guy
California guy

When I saw that MUD had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 99 percent, I HAD to find who was in such a lopsided minority on this gem of a movie. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but Mr. Fear could not be more wrong about a movie. I am dumbfounded to read this negative review. MUD serves up an amazing script, examining relationships between men and women on at least three different levels, looking at what it means to be a man in the South these days. Those two boys are nothing less than a revelation.

EOS
EOS

Well, this is the first time that I actually felt that it was necessary to correct a critic. The movie "MUD" is what I would call a true piece of art. Its ability to transport the viewer out of their surroundings and into the world of two southern boys is something that has been lost to the majority of movies that are being produced today. There is a reason for MUD recieving 99% approval on this site. It is by far the most original film of 2013. If you miss out on this film, your missing out on a future classic.

RJ
RJ

I would be so fcking pissed you gave away every bit of the story if I hadn't already seen the movie yet. Out of 134 critics on rotten tomatoes, only 2 didn't like the film, this guy being one of them. Call me crazy, but I personally loved it and have had it on my mind for a couple weeks now. Easily in conversation for best of the year. Always hated McConaughey, but he was spectacular in the film. Everything about the movie felt Southern, although of course everyone is better looking in the movie. And "Faulkneresque", really? lol. As l Lay Dying is probably my favorite novel. I never once thought of it's author while watching this movie. This review screams arrogance and attention. Gotta get page views somehow, I guess....

Ben
Ben

I completely agree with the reviewer. This movie is terrible. I had to force myself to go to sleep during it because I was so bored. The script sounds as if it was written by a 13 year old. It's Winter's Bone + Beasts of the Southern Wild - any hint of reality. Don't waste your money or your time.

reb
reb

Thanks for proving anyone can be a film critic - just not a good one. Try harder - you might rise to mediocre. 5 stars for the movie.

Matthew Malvinni
Matthew Malvinni

I work at the movies so I have a different perspective then other people because I see movies all the time and I like ones that are well made and a good show, not the plot or anything else about the movie.

Chuck
Chuck

I loved the movie and thought the boys were excellent (including Matt). Hated the shootout scene, but had already committed to the coming of age theme by then.

Jesse
Jesse

The movie feels like the actual south to me. Made me miss my family down there. But since you're obviously the expert on the south, maybe you can explain to me how exactly the Mississippi River will take Mud anywhere near the Mexican border?

mike
mike

Thanks for ruining the ending you arrogant piece of s---.

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