There was a time when Matthew McConaughey’s name being attached to a film was enough for me to wipe it from my consciousness completely. The man has just been involved with too many films which have made me steaming angry – I actually paid to watch Sahara and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Paid actual money!
But I haven’t seen a career rehabilitation like the one McConaughey has gone through since… well, since Heath Ledger. I thought Matthew was damned to the depths of rom-com hell, never to return. But now if someone said that Mr McConaughey was the most talented versatile actor in the business, I wouldn’t laugh at them.
Take the film Mud for instance, a film so far removed from the saturated world of the romantic comedy. Mud is also a film that deals in the same currency as the rom-com, it deal with the issue of love.
The film is about a kid called Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his mate Neckbone (the brilliant Jacob Lofland) discovering a criminal called Mud (McConaughey) hiding out on a remote island in the Arkansas River.
First of all, I shouldn’t have liked this film one bit: It focuses on a part of American society that I have no experience of watching; the southern US accents are thick and uncompromising in this film; with the running time at just over two hours, the film takes its sweet time to get going. But I ended up loving the film anyway.
The film asks the central question, what is love? That in itself isn’t unique but the way the film deals with the subject matter feels different and genuine. Ellis holds the idealised view that love is simple and clear – if two people love each other, nothing should stand in their way. This is challenged when Ellis’ parents begin to separate.
In fact, all around Ellis there are reasons to suggest that love is imperfect and weak and unpure – until he meets Mud. Mud is a chap who has loved one woman for the majority of his life. He has loved her so much that he has taken her back when she has strayed and, central to the film, he has killed to protect her. He is the embodiment of what Ellis believes and the kid does everything in his power to make sure that Mud and his one true love live happily ever after.
There are other ideas racing through this film other than love, there is commentary on the state of the American family and also how the US government is destroying long established fringe communities. This is a deceptively deep film.
And although Sheridan and Lofland appear on almost every scene of Mud, and they are absolutely fantastic as Ellis and Neckbone, it is McConaughey who is the jam in this film. His performance here took my breath away simply because I had his previous films in mind – it was like watching a totally different actor. My reaction to Matthew’s performance was very similar to how I responded to seeing Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. There is so much depth, heart and… more heart to his performance that you have to ask the question: why did it take this long for him to produce such a performance?
I don’t think Mud is for everyone – I think a lot of British watchers might not take to the film because of its deep south roots. But if you give it a chance, there is a sweet, charming and very deep film here.