Our final feature for 2013…
Mark Twain meets Sam Peckinpah in Jeff Nichols’s exhilarating coming-of-age movie
Jeff Nichols’s exhilarating third movie, Mud, concerns two 14-year-old boys growing up in a small town beside the Mississippi in the director’s native south central state of Arkansas, and it’s impossible while watching it not to think about Huckleberry Finn and Hemingway’s claim for its essential position in the experience of growing up close to the American landscape. It also brings to mind Hemingway’s own detailed, tactile descriptions of fishing, sailing, hunting and living close to nature in the wild. There’s another great novel about growing up, understanding and misunderstanding the world that Mud inevitably evokes. That’s Great Expectations and Pip’s relationship with fugitive convict Magwitch.
Nichols’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) who set off on an adventure down river to find an old boat, surrealistically stranded high in a tree on a deserted island. They come across a handsome, charismatic man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey), and he too lays claim to the boat. When it transpires he’s on the run for what he claims to be a justified homicide down in Texas, the boys enter into a pact to provide him with food and help him restore the craft as a means of escape. Ellis acts out of an innate sense of decency, sympathy and a need for friendship. Neckbone’s motives are initially cynical and mercenary, though he gradually warms to the outsider.
Nichols gives the scenes on the island with Mud a timeless feeling. It’s a mythical place where old tales can be told, friendships formed, trust established and memories created. This should not be seen as languor, or dismissed as longueur. The small town, by contrast, is a dangerous place full of suspicion and betrayal, where the young need to be wary and appearances are deceptive. Ellis is constantly misled and misunderstood, especially in his efforts on behalf of Juniper, the capricious, vulnerable girl whom he aims to unite with the lovelorn Mud and launch towards the wild blue yonder.
Nothing, of course, turns out as it should or as we quite expect, and there is a sudden, spectacularly handled outburst of violence worthy of Sam Peckinpah, whose first important movie, Ride the High Country, dealt with similar themes of coming of age, moral growth, ethical tutelage and a climactic confrontation between men of honour and representatives of brute force. Nichols has in fact been quoted as saying his film is “kind of like if Sam Peckinpah had directed a short story by Mark Twain”.
Phillip French finds this an entirely satisfying film … read his full review in the Guardian
Watch the trailer
and get stuck into ‘Mud’
MUD (12A) 130 mins US 2013
Tuesday 10th December 7.30 pm