Apparently, I'm going to have to add Jeff Nichols to my list of favorite current directors. This is the third movie I have seen of his, and he's good (or maybe it's Michael Shannon, who is in all three). About Take Shelter, I wrote, "It’s like M. Night Shyamalan only good, it’s a horror story, it’s really about the poor state of the American economy, it’s a finely-detailed portrait of a schizophrenic." Midnight Special, another Geezer pick from my wife, convinced me that "I need to see more movies by Nichols." My wife came through again, and Mud is every bit the equal of those other two.
Mud feels authentically Southern, and indeed, Nichols is from Arkansas, where the film takes place. That authenticity is useful, because the film is steeped in is-it-a-myth storytelling. The two young boys at the center of the narrative are believable humans, but Matthew McConaughey as the titular Mud is a figure out of a story more than he's an actual person. Actually, you could say that all three characters are out of the same story: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Like Twain's novel, Mud places its coming-of-age story in a recognizable place and then sneaks in the mythology.
This is all helped by the acting, not just by McConaughey but also from Ty Sheridan and Jacob Lofland (his film debut) as the two boys. Sheridan essentially carries the movie, and he's more than capable. Francine Maisler was in charge of the casting, and she deserves a hat tip, not only for those three, but also for the cast full of actors who are too well-known to qualify as "That Guys": Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, the ever-present Michael Shannon, along with a couple of true That Guys, Joe Don Baker and my beloved Ray McKinnon.
Mud is good enough that it mostly gets away with being guy-centric. Two boys coming of age under the semi-tutelage of an older man. The women characters fall a bit too easily into the angel/whore trope, with Mud in particular driven by a woman who keeps doing him wrong. But I don't want to go too far with this ... Witherspoon is especially strong in a way that refuses to be a stereotype.
There's a shootout at the end that feels a bit out of place in this film, although Nichols has prepared us for it. Otherwise, his work is very assured.
Where do I go next for a Jeff Nichols fix? He hasn't released a feature film since 2016, although there was an animated TV series, Hank the Cowdog. That still leaves me with Shotgun Stories and Loving.