Cannes 2012 Review: Jeff Nichols' Wonderful Southern Drama 'Mud'
by Alex Billington
May 26, 2012
Ah yes, this is what I've been waiting for. One of the last major premieres at the Cannes Film Festival was Jeff Nichols' third film following Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, titled simply Mud. This Arkansas-set southern drama is a wonderfully charming, classic Americana adventure following two young boys and their experience with a man named Mud that changes their lives. It's a coming-of-age film filled with heart, and passion, and brilliant filmmaking. I now affectionately refer to it as Stand By Me of the Southern Wild because it's a blend of the classic Stand By Me and the charm of Sundance hit Beasts of the Southern Wild.
In Mud, we're introduced to two adventurous boys, Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and his friend Neckbone (played by Jacob Lofland), who discover a boat stuck up in a tree on an island in the middle of the Mississippi. There they soon come across a mysterious Southern man named Mud, played impressively by Matthew McConaughey, who's the catalyst in this coming-of-age adventure. Mud doesn't have a complicated story, but instead focuses on a few key elements that really shine, mainly love, and what it means to love and how it affects the decisions people make. But as seen through the eyes of a boy learning love himself, while surrounded by a lot of intense love and hate that affects him positively and negatively.
The success of Mud comes primarily from the terrific storytelling and cinematic sensibilities of filmmaker-on-the-rise Jeff Nichols, who is becoming one of my favorites after this and Take Shelter. His use of an emotional score, his stunning cinematography, but most of all the amazing performances he gets out of his actors, are all reasons why I fell in love with Mud quickly. From the opening scenes it already felt similar to Stand By Me, as we follow two kids learning about life and how to grow up through the adult situations that they encounter and haphazardly get involved in. I make that comparison only as the way to describe how endearing and amazing this film is a coming-of-age story, but it deserves plenty of its own acclaim as well.
Even though it showed late in the festival, Mud may be my favorite of the fest. It got to me emotionally, it's engaging and extremely well-made, it addresses some compelling ideas regarding love, and I enjoyed almost every last second of it. It follows a more "classic" storytelling format (which is the oddball in Cannes) but I had no complaints, I admire what Jeff Nichols achieved here and compliment his audacity and focus on the characters. Both Ellis and "Neck", the two boys, give phenomenal performances, and this would not have worked without them. Mud is a wonderful film that will hopefully leave a lasting impression; it has with me.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9 out of 10