One of the last films up for competition to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival was Matthew McConaughey’s second movie here, the surprisingly delightful Mud. McConaughey plays the titular characters, a mysterious man hiding away on small around outside of town in Mississippi, looking to reconnect with his past love, but looking to avoid other parts of his past.
He is happened upon by two level-headed 14-year olds, young Ellis and Neckbone. With their curiosity piqued, especially with Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan, whose two movie credits have both been shown at Cannes, with last year’s The Tree of Life), the boys escape frequently to the island to learn about the enigmatic yet warm Mud. He charms the boys, and when the pair find discover a wanted poster with Mud’s face on it, instead of reporting him and hiding, they are quick to see him and hear his story.
Mud is being hunted by bounty hunters, but all he wants to do is find the woman he loves. That would be Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and when she arrives into town, suspicious characters start to emerge with eyes on her, and as the boys become the go-betweens for the two, they also become incriminated.
The whimsy soon gets placed by the dramatic, making for a stirring finale to a film that is full of heart, a refreshing change of pace to the myriad films at Cannes surrounded by darkness. To be sure, loss of innocence is a prevailing theme in Mud, and tension rises throughout as Mud’s uncertain history makes for an unpredictable future. Still, the relationship that develops between him and the young Ellie is rejuvenating, a clear response to the pending divorce between Ellie’s parents.
While touching at times, it is not without heartache and shock. Ellie grows up rather quickly, and without innocence. His parents are troubling at home, the houseboat in which he has resided is to be taken by the government, and, of course, he has his heart invested a beautiful older woman—a high school senior.
Mud is a marked departure for McConaughey, and though he does take off his shirt, the character is tender, yet powerful, and you can’t but help to root for him. Director Jeff Nichols brings out the best in his characters, expertly balancing innocence and guilt, charming the audiences here and there.
The film is right to be at Cannes, especially at the end after so many darkly disturbing and deviant movies, but it is much more fitted to be talked about at the Oscars. Winning performances, a compelling yet simple story that is dramatic but not overdramatic, and endearing characters make for a stellar combination.