Despite a surplus of positive word of mouth, I'd sort of written off Mud as some inevitably exhausting bore. It read like the bastard child of last summer's big-ticket indie films: kids floating around southern waters, Matthew McConaughey, other stuff...you know what I mean. There was little chance of Mud surprising me, and so I didn't run to it. I'm a bit ashamed of this fact, of course. Not because the film proved me wrong, no (sometimes you can just sort of see the way something will unfold), but because that excuse is a terrible reason not to experience the nuances and methods of an individual story. It shouldn't matter whether the trailers have made the outcome transparent, or whether we've seen material like this before. A film like Mud is simply about the storytelling process. We're watching something slowly unfold, not flailing towards the inevitability of the ending.
With Mud, Ellis and Neck are given a purpose. They're amateur detectives, scavengers, and assistants. Though they have no real reason to, they are drawn to the man, Ellis in particular. Perhaps it's because he communicates with them without condescension, perhaps because they feel they can truly help, or maybe because sharing a secret builds a powerful bond. Whatever it is, as the secrets of Mud's past are slowly revealed, the necessity of this connection becomes palpable in its energy. What's surprising about Mud certainly isn't its concluding chapter, but is instead the individual potential of its characters. They have the ability to surprise us while remaining in character, and we become close to Ellis and Neck as we first realize that they are more complicated than we gave them credit for, and then as they themselves begin to understand that the adults in their world all house richer past lives and stories
While the film's final act is unfortunately also its weakest moment, Mud has a life to it that makes it something better than our last glimpse. Though the story shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone, Mud is a good, solid film made of sturdy stuff that's just plain better than should be possible.