Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter was more than just a fine film. An unflinching realist’s portrait of mental illness as seen through the eyes of the afflicted – his family’s support and social standing both dwindling at an alarming rate – its unfailing sense of sympathy remained an infallibly respectable high point. Deftly executed through and through, I eagerly anticipated Nichols’ follow-up, Mud. This time playing as a sort of Southern-fried semi-fairy tale-cum-coming-of-age tale, it’s apparent that this now established filmmaker has found his niche as an accomplished storyteller, even if his latest can’t quite hold a candle to what’s to this day one of 2011’s absolute best.
Mud shines the spotlight on two best friends – Ellis and Neckbone – as their typically heightened adolescent sense of adventure lands them on an island inhabited by one “Mud” (Matthew McConaughey). Unknowing of the man’s past but supportive of his plans for a hopeful future, the two boys become increasingly involved in his plan to leave the island via a capsized yacht. Details naturally unravel pertaining to the former as Ellis’ curiosity digs himself into a seedy hole he may not be able to crawl out of; Mud’s very existence irrevocably altering his future.
Merely reviewing that long-winded but compelling synopsis reveals that Mud should be something of a gem among typically uninspired fare – a proverbial diamond in the rough that allows McConaughey to continue along a critically favorable path. Sadly, the film isn’t much more than aptly put together as its narrative walks a simple path of least resistance, pairing a concise coming-of-age element as it dully unravels its baser elements. Put plainly, the core concept is in itself more engaging than a bulk of the details fueled by Mud’s naive good-naturedness and foolish longing for the so-called love of his life.
In summary, Mud is rarely even particularly surprising albeit solidly, moreover routinely constructed. There’s a requisite amount of deep water for its characters to wallow in as events unfold, heartfelt interaction between them and noticeable if subdued dramatic highs, however it never manages to peak regarding its potential. It’s a serviceable third feature from Nichols, but outside of a simple air of intrigue and a partially self-redeeming third act, it all comes off as a bit lackluster in relation to what we now know the aspiring auteur is capable of.