I have now seen Mud twice, and I find my opinion has not changed with the second viewing. This film is terrific and one of the year’s best, despite an unsatisfying conclusion.
McConaughey’s Mud is (deservedly) receiving a great deal of praise from critics. His is an understated performance, with equal parts foreboding and sentimentality just underneath the surface. Emotion comes in small bursts only when required, and it is never over the top. He is brilliant. I thought him terrific in 2011’s Bernie, but he is better here.
And yet, this is not his movie, the fact that he’s in the titular role notwithstanding. Tye Sheridan’s Ellis owns this one. He’s the protaganist, yes, but he also delivers an incredible performance in what is, essentially, a disguised coming of age tale. Sheridan is terrific. It is only in the scene in which he confronts Mud that the youngster’s emotion seems a little off, and that is only for a second. He gets it back quickly, when he moves from anger to soul crushed disappointment. This kid has talent.
Bonnie Sturdivant (May Pearl) is also very good. She doesn’t get as much screen time as Sheridan, but what she receives, she handles adeptly.
The screenplay is almost universally great. Characters are well drawn and well developed. The pacing is consistently fast enough so as to make this character piece feel alive. Most importantly, unlike 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, this one is balanced. Senior’s desire to stay on the river is just as sympathetic as Paulson’s Mary Lee’s wish to go to town. Ellis’ rage over his mom’s decision is understandable, rage that reverts back to the themes of love, loss and lessons learned.
I love this film.
But I do not love the conclusion, per se. The finale, which as a separate scene is choreographed well, feels like a different picture. Unless you are willing to explore the deep emotional fallout from violence like what Sam Shepherd’s Tom and McCaunghey’s Mud confront, it doesn’t belong in a movie about people with human emotions and motivations. Nichols, the director, is not interested in exploring the fallout. He choreographs a five-minute, ultra violent standoff, bottles a family of the three in the middle of it and has countless gunshots explode. And then, he seemingly sweeps it under the rug. That doesn’t work for me. Would have been better, I think, to have a less explosive culmination, one in which Mud maybe senses the trouble coming and finds some way to escape. Alternatively, maybe Mud sees it coming, but moves the violence to some other location.
All in all, still a fantastic movie. But a muted finale would have produced a less rushed epilogue and a more satisfying conclusion.