It’s no secret that Matthew McConaughey is in the midst of an extraordinary stage in his career. Since 2011, over the course of six films, he has turned in one stellar performance after another, constantly surprising and continually impressive. As much as his talent is on the screen, part of this resurgence is undeniably due to the material. This is certainly the case with Mud.

While McConaughey gives what may be his strongest overall showing to date, why Mud stands out, and why it’s one of the best films of the year, is that it excels beyond just his accomplishments. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who is now three-exceptional-films-for-three, Mud is a brilliant convergence of filmic conventions. It’s a devoted love story, with McConaughey’s eponymous character obsessively and blindly seeking to reunite with his lost love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). It’s a coming-of-age tale for Neckbone and Ellis (Jacob Lofland and Tye Sheridan), the latter experiencing the pain and confusion of unrequited young love while simultaneously caught in familial strife, further skewing his view of relationships. And it’s a thriller, with Mud on the lam, sought by police and a ragtag posse bent on revenge.

Further tension surfaces from ambiguous character development, with many of these people having no immediately comprehensive back-story or obvious motivation. Leveling the drama are moments of amusement: Michael Shannon in a somehow sexually useful scuba suit, the integral but bizarre boat in a tree, Neckbone’s no-nonsense crassness. The bonds formed by the characters, Nichols’ deft handing of the varying tones and divergent narratives, and the authenticity of performances and setting all ring true, and all make Mud a captivating fusion of filmmaking perfection.


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