Mud is the third film written and directed by Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Jeff Nichols. The film was shot over an eight-week period in parts of Dumas (Desha County), DeWitt (Arkansas County), Lake Village (Chicot County), Crockett’s Bluff (Arkansas County), and Stuttgart (Arkansas County) in the fall of 2011. The film used more than 400 locals as extras. Other Arkansan actors in the film include Jacob Lofland of Yell County in the role of Neckbone and El Dorado (Union County) native Stuart Greer, a noted character actor, as a bounty hunter called Miller. The film made its premiere at the famous Cannes Film Festival in France on May 26, 2012, and was shown at the Sundance Film Festival before being released in theaters in 2013. Mud won the Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards in 2014.
Mud tells the story of two fourteen-year-old boys named Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) who discover a man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living on a deserted island in the Mississippi River near their hometown of DeWitt. It is revealed that Mud is on the run and has been living on the island to evade capture by a group of bounty hunters. Ellis and Neckbone make a pact with Mud to help him repair an old boat, stealing a motor from a nearby junkyard in the process. They help him escape and reunite him with his long-lost love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who is staying in their town. As the story progresses, it is revealed that Mud killed a man for allegedly abusing Juniper. In retaliation, the father of the man Mud killed hired a group of bounty hunters to help him settle the score.
In the second part of the film, Mud asks Ellis and Neckbone to pass along a message from him to Juniper. The boys discover her being interrogated by one of the bounty hunters. One of the bounty hunters begins harassing the young boys for information. Juniper decides not to leave with Mud, so he must leave without her. When Ellis falls into a pit and is bitten by a venomous water moccasin, Mud rushes him into town for medical attention, drawing attention to himself in the process after being recognized by a hospital employee. The cops are tipped off about Mud’s presence, as are the bounty hunters. Mud and Neckbone get the newly repaired boat into the water ready for his escape, but Mud wants to say goodbye to Ellis. They go to Ellis’s houseboat where he is now recovering from the snakebite. The bounty hunters arrive, and a gunfight ensues.
Mud is aided by a Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), a retired Marine sniper and father figure to Mud. Together, they manage to subdue the bounty hunters one by one, but Ellis is taken hostage by one of the gunmen. Mud saves Ellis but is shot in the side while diving in the river to make his getaway. Ellis and Neckbone are uncertain whether Mud is alive or dead, but the film depicts Mud and Tom escaping downriver, arriving at the mouth of the Arkansas River where it connects with the Mississippi.
Mud was well received by national critics and by state reviewers for publications such as the Arkansas Times. Melena Ryzik of the New York Times reported that Mud was loosely inspired by director Jeff Nichols’s boyhood experiences in Arkansas and Mark Twain’s novels featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Godfrey Cheshire of IndieWire, a publication on independent films, called Mud the best southern film in years and “a clever, complex, and expertly mounted coming-of-age-cum-suspense film.” Cheshire also applauded the film’s use of regional mythologies and classic literary themes. Lindsay Millar of the Arkansas Times called the film “the biggest film Arkansas’s ever seen,” because of its large budget and star-studded cast. Millar said that the film was “likely to be appreciated by all ages” and urged people to see it. The film broke into the top ten independent films at the box office upon wide release and earned more than $32 million worldwide on a $10 million budget.
Jeff Nichols’s brother Ben Nichols—Little Rock native and frontman of Memphis-based rock band Lucero—wrote and performed several original songs for the Mud soundtrack.
For additional information:
Cheshire, Godfrey. “Why ‘Mud’ is the Best Southern Film in Years.” IndieWire.com, June 10, 2013. http://www.indiewire.com/2013/06/why-mud-is-the-best-southern-film-in-years-37761/ (accessed August 27, 2020).
Miller, Lindsay. “Nichols Goes Big in the Arkansas-Set ‘Mud.’” Arkansas Times, May 2, 2013. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/nichols-goes-big-in-the-arkansas-set-mud/Content?oid=2837376 (accessed August 27, 2020).
“Mud.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1935179/ (accessed August 27, 2020).
Ryzik, Melena. “Storytelling Son of the South.” New York Times, April 19, 2013. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/movies/jeff-nichols-spins-another-southern-tale-with-mud.html (accessed August 27, 2020).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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