Matthew McConaughey might have finally redeemed himself.
After several years spent in a minefield full of films like “Surfer, Dude” and “Fool’s Gold,” the actor is on a serious hot streak. Starting with 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” McConaughey slowly started to act more with his shirt on than off and really got into his role with “Killer Joe” a year later.
That brings us to “Mud,” a film that shows the gritty, small town life of the South. When 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover a stranger named Mud (McConaughey) living in their abandoned boat, he enlists them to help in the restoration process. Hoping to reunite with his lover (Reese Witherspoon) before his sins catch up to him, Mud needs his new boat in order to dodge the law and a more dangerous enemy.
The South is one place better known for its caricatures than for any honest representation, but “Mud” manages to accurately portray small-town life without sugar coating its problems. Using a great cast of characters and a perfect tone, the film is able to document many aspects of Southern living without retreading the work of previous films. And really, what could make a film more Southern than a few Piggly Wiggly references?
Speaking of that great cast of characters, McConaughey isn’t the only one lighting up the screen. Michael Shannon, Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard all turn in great performances that make their seconday characters seem more lifelike. In a film that moves this slowly, that’s the difference between a great film and asking for a refund. The only character who’s really not that interesting is Witherspoon’s Juniper, a hot mess straight out of the trailer park. Though she’s more attractive than the average person you see in Arkansas, it’s hard to see why Mud goes to the lengths he does in order to keep her around.
Another reason why “Mud” works so well is the direction of Jeff Nichols. In only his third directorial outing (the second being the highly-acclaimed “Take Shelter”), Nichols has crafted a masterful film that is perfectly paced. The 34-year-old is making quite the name for himself as both a writer and director, so I’m anxiously awaiting whatever his next project is going to be.
“Mud” is half coming-of-age tale and half a slow crime thriller, teaching many lessons on naive youthfulness and unhealthy relationships. Despite only having one or two scenes that you could call “exciting,” the film’s pace and acting make 130 minutes fly by. “Mud” is more than a good film. Call it the first Best Picture nominee of 2013.