Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been a burgeoning talent in the filmmaking world for a few years now following his one-two punch of Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, but his latest release is proving to be his most successful yet. Not only has Mud caught on with general audiences (to the tune of $26.8 million and counting), but the film provides a unique, enthralling, and almost mythic take on the coming-of-age genre that boasts a magnetic performance by Matthew McConaughey and truly stunning breakthrough work from the young Tye Sheridan. The result is one of the best films of the year, and it’s now available on home video. Hit the jump for my review of Mud on Blu-ray.
Pulling from his own experiences, Mud takes place in Nichols’ native Arkansas and tells the Mark Twain-esque story of two young boys who stumble upon a mysterious man named Mud (McConaughey) living on a small island in the middle of the Mississippi River. Our protagonist, Ellis (Sheridan), is dealing with family problems at home and the misery of young love, and so he finds adventure in befriending the enigmatic Mud. As it turns out, Mud is in hiding for a soon-to-be-revealed crime, and he himself is waiting for the love of his life Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) to join him on the run.
The events that follow drip with the intensity of the best thrillers, but Nichols maintains a strong sense of character focus throughout that keeps the film grounded. McConaughey is swell as the titular character, but it’s Sheridan who truly shines with a brilliant performance as the story’s “hero.” The actor proves adept at portraying a wide range of emotions without ever feeling false, and yet maintains that innocence of youth that is so often lost on young actors.
Nichols’ dense script is tinged with themes of unrequited love; a universal experience that we see through the eyes of both Mud and Ellis. The filmmaker never shies away from hard truths for his characters, but he still threads a sense of optimism throughout that keeps the film from becoming cynical. His camera work shows maturity, as he gorgeously captures the Arkansas landscape with a sense of, again, Twain-esque wonder that transports the viewer completely into the world his characters inhabit. The film is a bit on the long side and swerves in an unexpected direction in its third act that some seem to find issue with, but it’s hard to fault Nichols when the storytelling remains so compelling and the performances ring so true.
The Blu-ray is presented in glorious 2.35:1 widescreen and 5.1 DTS-HD sound, making the home video experience refreshingly cinematic. Nichols’ landscapes still feel real and lived-in thanks to the meticulous transfer.
The Blu-ray disc boasts an audio commentary by Nichols along with a collection of featurettes. The commentary is chock-full of information, as the filmmaker reflects on his life in Arkansas and discusses how personal Mud as a story is to him. The director also gets into the film’s locations and crafting the characters, making the commentary very worthwhile.
- A Personal Tale – This nearly 12-minute featurette is a fairly basic behind-the-scenes look at the film, but it focuses mostly on Nichols’ personal desire to get the pic made and how he went about casting. We see the actors talking about Nichols’ clear vision for the film, and get a great look at how the filmmaker works out the shooting of integral scenes on set. Better than your standard EPK, but it still leaves the viewer wanting something more comprehensive.
- The Arkansas Ensemble – This casting-focused featurette runs at a little over 7 minutes in length and centers on the cast. We see Nichols discuss casting the integral roles of Ellis and Neckbone while striving for Arkansas authenticity, and he reveals that he wrote the parts of Mud and Tom for McConaughey and Sam Shepard, respectively.
- Southern Authenticity – Another shorter featurette (6 minutes long), this time centering on how Nichols captured the authenticity of the South while also paying tribute to the area.
- The Snake Pit – An incredibly brief look at one of the integral scenes from the film.
While coming-of-age stories are a dime a dozen, Jeff Nichols has truly crafted a unique and special entry in the genre that examines themes of love, youth, and family. Buoyed by a breakout performance from Tye Sheridan, Mud is certainly one of the best films of 2013 and it plays just as well on repeat viewings. While the Blu-ray lacks an in-depth look behind the scenes, the engaging audio commentary and thoughtful—though short—featurettes make the extras worthwhile. Throw in a stunning visual transfer, and this Blu-ray is a sound purchase.