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May 26, 2012   •  Category: "Mud", Public Appearances0 Comments

As we’ve posted about, Mud received it’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival today, with Reese attending a photocall, press conference and premiere for the film with her co-stars and director. I’ve collected together several articles about their appearance plus reviews of the movie, so browse through this post to read them.

The film seems to be receiving mixed-positive reviews so far which is good! I will be on the lookout for more, as the film has just had it’s official premiere screening this evening (after the red carpet).

Cannes 2012: ‘Mud’ Director Jeff Nichols Steals the Spotlight from Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon

Indie director Jeff Nichols hardly seems like the kind of guy to grab attention from Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey, but that’s exactly what the young filmmaker did at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.

Nichols, 33, was at Cannes for the second time with only his third film, “Mud,” and the aw-shucks director so captivated the media at the film’s news conference that they almost totally ignored the two gorgeous Hollywood A-list stars in his film.

Nichols was seated between a pregnant and very blond Reese Witherspoon, who dazzled in a little black dress and fuchsia stilettos, and Matthew McConaughey, all square-jawed and tanner than usual in a white jacket.

But Nichols entranced reporters with his emotional, impassioned soliloquies on his coming-of-age film about two teenage boys (the stellar Tye Sheridan from “The Tree of Life” and talented newcomer Jacob Lofland) who discover a fugitive living on a small island in the Mississippi River. For a while, the media seemed to forget the glossy stars in their midst.

Even the Washington Post used a photo of Witherspoon gazing in admiration at Nichols to accompany a review of the film today. Reporters and photographers screamed “Jeff! Jeff!” after the press conference ended. The director signed more autographs than McConaughey, who excels for a second time at the festival after his well-received turn in “The Paperboy.”

Nichols, an Arkansas native, spun such a moving tale of his love for the South (the movie was filmed in southeast Arkansas) and what he fears is a vanishing way of life that it’s easy to see how he writes and directs films that resonate with emotion. He became an indie darling beginning with 2007’s “Shotgun Stories,” and continuing with last year’s “Take Shelter,” which won the top prize in Critics Week at Cannes.

Michael Shannon, who starred in those films, has a small role in “Mud” as one of the boys’ uncle.

Jeff Nichols“The South is precious and the South is fleeting,” Nichols said. “It has a particular accent and culture that is fast being homogenized. I wanted to capture a snapshot of that life before it’s over.”

Nichols didn’t flinch when a sharp-eyed reporter from El Globo in Brazil asked him about similarities between “Mud” and “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.”

“If you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well steal from someone as good as Mark Twain,” said Nichols. “Twain encapsulated what it was like to be a kid growing up on the Mississippi River. I wanted to set this film on the Mississippi. It’s still the greatest river in the world.”

Young Lofland chimed in to say he’d read “Huckleberry Finn” on set and grilled Nichols about “a lot of things that found their way into the film.”

Besides Nichols, Witherspoon, McConaughey and the two teenage actors are also from the South. So words like “blessed” got tossed around a lot during the press conference in the kind of twang normally heard more at a Walmart or Piggly Wiggly than on the French Riviera.

But the southern folksiness was exactly why Witherspoon signed on, even though her role is miniscule and she said she’s leery of big stars overshadowing small films. She plays the woman McConaughey’s character has been in love with since they were teenagers.

Matthew McConaughey in Mud”I grew up with my brother in a creek, riding dirt bikes, dirt fishing, everything you see the boys in the movie doing,” she said. “When I read Jeff’s script, it felt like home. Very few movies about the American South are real. It’s a beautiful story about the place I’m from.”

Witherspoon was also impressed when she heard Nichols “wasn’t bringing in kids from L.A. These are boys who knew how to do everything they had to do in the movie.”

“Yeah,” said Nichols. “We didn’t import some kids from L.A. and then set them up with their boat and dirt bike lessons.”

At the press conference, Nichols also painted an idyllic portrait of being one of the first graduates of the North Carolina School for the Arts, which is now hard to get into but in Nichols’ day was “the place for those of us who couldn’t get into NYU or couldn’t afford it. It was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Most of Nichols’ crew is made up of his former classmates.

“The way you make a movie defines the kind of movie you make,” he said. “And I like being on a set and seeing my buddies over there.”

Cannes 2012: Jeff Nichols’ ‘Mud’ Slides Into Competition with Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon

The “Take Shelter” director talks to THR about premiering his coming-of-age tale, being the youngest director in Competition and his unexpected upcoming project.

After days of rain on the Riviera, on Saturday night, Mud will slide into the Palais for the world premiere of Jeff Nichols’ third film on the last day of the Cannes competition.

While few can forget Nichols’ sophomore film, apocalyptic thriller Take Shelter that won the Critics Week prize just last year, not many people will remember even seeing Nichols during this first time in Cannes in 2000 when he was still in college and came to the festival through an internship with the American Pavilion. Not so long after waiting tables for busy execs, the prolific filmmaker is back with a coming-of-age story starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and child actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. Nichols and his cast made the journey from the rugged Mississippi river to the French Riviera for the premiere.

“There are water and sand in both places, so it’s kind of similar. The temperature is about the same in both places. Actually, the Mississippi is just like Cannes,” Nichols joked.
After his Critics Week win, Nichols is back in Cannes just one year later in a competition slot.

The director is the youngest in this year’s competition and will battle it out with acclaimed auteurs like Michael Haneke, David Cronenberg and Jacques Audiard.
“I’m more nervous. The stakes feel higher because they are. You can’t walk into the Palais and not feel overwhelmed,” he says.

Yet despite the global praise for Take Shelter and his spot amongst Cannes greats this year, Nichols remains a modest Southern boy. “I’m just happy to be at the party,” he says of films from his fellow competitors like Cronenberg, Haneke and Andrew Dominik that “shaped me as a filmmaker and as a storyteller.”

Nichols also credits another influence to his work, specifically this film, namely American writer Mark Twain.

The director was inspired by Twain’s coming-of-age tale Tom Sawyer. “Tom Sawyer did something very specific. It captured a sense of being a child in a particular time in life,” he says, then, at he risk of “hyperbole” adds, “Twain is the greatest American writer to have lived.”

Like many Competition directors this year, Nichols was in the mood for love when making Mud.

“It’s all about love. It’s from a very male perspective I suppose. It’s about unrequited love if you had to choose a kind of love that it’s about,” he explains.
He adds: “I wanted to capture a point in my life in High School when I had crushes on girls and it totally broke my heart and it was devastating. I wanted to try and bottle that excitement and that pain and that intensity of being in love and being a teenager.”

The film will be the second time McConaughey walks the Cannes red carpet steps after presenting Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy on Thursday.

“I wrote it for McConaughey,” Nichols says of the story that he began to develop when he was still a student in 2000 and taking trips to the public library. He remembers thinking: “’I should write about the Mississippi river and there should be a man living on an island there,’” he says adding: “Of course, I thought Matthew McConaughey should be that guy.”
Then, Nichols went on to make two films and McConaughey continued his prolific big screen career, however, says Nichols, “I just kept coming back to him.” Then, Nichols met the actor in Austin and, he says, “I just loved him. He was perfect. It was so easy because I wrote it with his voice in mind.”

Witherspoon is at the same agency as Nichols so the Oscar-winning actress wasn’t a tough sell, according to Nichols. Plus, “She pairs really well with McConaughey.” He says of their incipient encounter: “She was smart and funny and awesome. I said ‘I’m going to put tattoos on you, you’re going to look rough and smoke a cigarette and you’re going to be living in a motel in Arkansas and she just said ‘Bring it, I can handle all that.’ There wasn’t one whiff of prima donna status.”

Joining McConaughey and Witherspoon are the film’s young talents Sheridan and Lofland who have central roles in the story.

Sheridan starred in last year’s Palme d’Or-winning film Tree of Life, but this is his first time in Cannes.

“I just feel very fortunate and I’m very blessed to even be a part of this. It’s just unbelievable to me,” says the young actor, already ostensibly wise beyond his years.
Sarah Green, producer of Tree of Life, brought Sheridan into the picture and Lofland was hired after he stumbled upon the open casting call launched in Arkansas on the internet.

The boys enjoyed hanging out with co-star McConaughey in between takes and also learned a lot about their art from the experienced actor in the process. Sheridan recalls their fondest memory from the set: “It’s a very serious scene and right in the middle a spider came down from a web from the tree above and landed on Matthew. We broke character, we couldn’t hold it together, we just started laughing,” he remembers. And while McConaughey made time for fun on set – “He loves Frisbee” says Sheridan – he also remained focused. “You can tell Matthew tells his work seriously by his reaction. After the scene, he was a little bit disappointed in us, but we learned from that and we learned from our mistake,” Sheridan says. Adds Jofland: “We got it together after that. We didn’t have as many mess-ups.”

After Mud sliding for two years in a row in Cannes, Nichols will head back to the US to work.

“It’s time to go back and spend some time writing” after two years in production. “I’m actually ready to go home and sit in front of the computer,” he adds. His next project is “Midnight Special” that he describes as an ostensibly un-Nichols-like break from his previous films, a “sci-fi action chase movie” produced by Sarah Greene and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones.

The film will certainly be a break from Nichols’ sweet story that was one of several looks at “l’amour’ in Cannes this year.

“There’s a lot of love going around. Last year was anxiety and this year is love,” he says.

Cannes gets happy ending with river film “Mud”

“Mud”, a touching coming-of-age tale set on the Mississippi River and starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, brought the Cannes film festival competition to a close on Saturday, earning warm applause at a press screening.

The film, which echoes Mark Twain and his novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, centers on Ellis – played by up-and-coming actor Tye Sheridan, who was 14 at the time.

Along with best friend Neckbone, he comes across the mysterious Mud (McConaughey) who is living alone on an island.

The boys discover he is on the run for a serious crime, but has come back to the area to find the love of his life Juniper, played by Witherspoon, whom he dreams of whisking away to Mexico by sea.

They help him to rebuild a boat stuck up in a tree in the floods, and are drawn into an dangerous race against time as the family of Mud’s victim shows up to get revenge.

Director and scriptwriter Jeff Nichols admitted he borrowed freely from the novels of Twain.

“If you’re going to steal stuff from somebody you should steal stuff from somebody really intelligent and I stole things from Mark Twain,” he told reporters ahead of the film’s world premiere later on Saturday.

“Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors and there’s a scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom swims into the middle of the Mississippi River and takes a nap on the sand bar.

“I think I read that in eighth grade in English class and I just never could get it out of my head.”

Jacob Lofland, the 15-year-old first-time actor who played Neckbone, said he and Sheridan noticed the similarities.

“Me and Tye got to read Huck Finn on the set … and we found a lot of stuff that happened to wander on to the script, and we did question Jeff on that one.”

Nichols chose the young actors because they were from the south of the United States and so would appear more authentic than trained performers from, say, Los Angeles.

Sheridan’s first film role was in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”, which won the top prize – the Palme d’Or – in Cannes last year.

For Witherspoon, a best actress Oscar winner for “Walk the Line”, the story had immediate appeal.

“I grew up with my brother in a creek on a dirt bike riding around, doing motocross, down in the dirt, fishing in Tennessee, so when I read Jeff’s script it just felt like home.

“I never get to see home on the big movie screen and Jeff brought such an authentic, beautiful story to the place and it was just very appealing for me.

“There’s very few movies about the American South that are accurate, and I feel like this is one of them.”

The 12-day Cannes film festival closes on Sunday with a red carpet awards ceremony, where “Mud” and 21 other competition entries are eligible for prizes including the coveted Palme d’Or.

Critics’ favorites include Michael Haneke’s “Amour” (Love), Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” and Jacques Audiard’s “Rust & Bone”.

Young love on the run closes Cannes race with ‘Mud’

Cannes moored up on the Mississippi on Saturday with “Mud”, a Huckleberry Finn-like tale about two boys, a fugitive, and the search for true love that wrapped up the race for the Palme d’Or.

Set in a richly-evoked American south of makeshift houseboats, untamed nature and hardscrabble lives, the coming-of-age story by US director Jeff Nichols is one of 22 films vying for the Riviera festival’s top award Sunday.

It tells of two teenaged boys, 14-year-old Ellis and Neckbone played by real-life southerners Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, who stumble across a man hiding out on an island in the middle of the river, going by the name of Mud.

Shaggy-haired, dirty, but ultimately unthreatening, the character played by Matthew McConaughey has set up camp in a boat marooned in a treetop by a flood, and which they had hoped to claim as their own.

Hard-up for supplies, Mud strikes a deal with the kids: bring him food to survive in hiding and when he moves on, the boat — and his pistol — will be theirs.

Soon enough his story comes out: hopelessly in love with his childhood sweetheart, he shot dead one of her lovers after he savagely beat her, and now has both police and bounty hunters on his tracks.

Moved by the story — all the more since he is in the throes of first love and his parents’ marriage is on the rocks — Ellis sets his heart on reuniting Mud and his beloved Juniper, played by southern belle Reese Witherspoon.

But the victim’s thuggish relatives and their gang of hired guns have the pair in their sights as well.

The 33-year-old Nichols said he wanted with his third feature film to tell a universal story about unrequited love.

“It was really about this boy desperately searching for a version of love that works — and the adults around him are just really bad examples,” the film-maker said.

But it was also a chance for the director, born and raised in Arkansas, which is bordered by the mighty Mississippi, to conjure a riverside way of life in danger of dying out in an increasingly conformist America.

“I wanted to capture a snapshot of a place that might not be there forever,” he told reporters before the film’s red-carpet premiere. “There’s no greater river in the world in terms of the stories that have been birthed from it.”

“I like big, sweeping movies and I like applying that idea to these places that I come from,” he said.

The director joked that he “stole” ruthlessly from Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”, whose boy heroes Huck and Tom Sawyer meet the slave character Jim on an island in the Mississippi.

“Mark Twain really was able to encapsulate what it was like to be a child growing up on the Mississippi river,” added Nichols, who has been haunted by the books since childhood and made them required reading for his young stars.

“Yeah, me and Tye got to read Huck Finn on the set,” Lofland confirmed. “And we found a lot of stuff that happened to wander onto the script — we did question Jeff on that one!”

Nichols’ lead actors in the film all hail from the American south, the two youngsters bringing some locally-honed skills to the shoot.

“It was remarkable finding these boys that could ride dirt bikes, run boats,” he said. “I’d say say, ‘Hey, jump down that hole and I’ll throw snakes on you,’ and they’d say ‘All Right!”

McConaughey too relished a chance to plunge himself back into the rivers and creeks of his youth, as well as into the spirit of first love.
“Puppy love, there’s nothing reasonable about it, thank God,” he said. “My character is a dreamer. If he ever got pragmatic or reasonable he would come back down to earth and die of heartache.”

Palme of reason or Palme of passion?

A weaker US entry that was nevertheless greeted much more enthusiastically by the press was the competition closer, Jeff Nichols’ “Mud”. Nichols made the marvellous “Take Shelter” last year, and his new film, an adventure about an Arkansas adolescent (the impressive Tye Sheridan, below) who befriends a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey, doing a less interesting Southern-charmer schtick than in “The Paperboy”), is warm and moderately engaging. But while “Mud” is graced with the same vivid sense of rural American life as “Take Shelter”, it has little of the shivery visual power or narrative risk-taking that made the earlier film such a discovery.

Nichols’ story sounds slightly offbeat on paper: McConaughey’s character, who’s surviving solo on a snake-infested island, has an almost mythical aura, and his plan to run away with his land-locked lady love (nicely played by Reese Witherspoon) gives the romantic subplot a sweet storybook feel. Too bad “Mud” plays like a fairly conventional coming-of-age tale, with plenty of clichéd trimmings (bickering parents at home, a crush on an older girl, childhood illusion fading into adult weariness), predictable plot twists, and sentimental pay-offs.

The 33-year-old Nichols (the youngest director in competition this year) has said that “Mud” is the movie he’s been dying to make for the last ten years. I walked out feeling a bit as if I had just watched a talented filmmaker slumming in the mainstream.

That doesn’t mean “Mud” won’t win anything. Some of the weakest films in competition, like Yousry Nasrallah’s soapy political drama “After the Battle” or David Cronenberg’s tedious “Cosmopolis”, have been mentioned as possibilities for prizes. The former deals with a topic – the Arab Spring – that has been in headlines and on minds around the world for the last year. The latter was made by an internationally cherished filmmaker who people – especially at an auteur-obsessed event like this one – think can do no wrong.

Such is Cannes.

Cannes 2012: Mud – review

Jeff Nichols returns with an engaging and good-looking picture, boosted by two bright leading performances

3 out of 5 stars

Cannes 2012

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Cannes 2012: Mud – review

Jeff Nichols returns with an engaging and good-looking picture, boosted by two bright leading performances
3 out of 5

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Peter Bradshaw
Peter Bradshaw, Saturday 26 May 2012 17.58 BST
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Jacob Lofland, Jeff Nichols, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan at the Mud photocall at Cannes. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

Jeff Nichols is the director whose mysterious apocalyptic tale Take Shelter was a word-of-mouth sensation at the Cannes festival last year. Now he returns with a rich, sweet slice of Americana – although a little more contrived and sentimental than it promises to be at first.

It’s a gentler movie than Take Shelter, a film with obvious literary influences which looks itself like a book adaptation but was in fact written originally for the screen by Nichols.

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are Arkansas teenagers with problems at home and nothing to do all summer long but zoom around on their motor scooter exploring. One hot day they take a boat out to a deserted island in the Mississippi where a recent flood has surreally dumped a boat up in the trees. The boys are all set to make this their own private treehouse. But then they discover food and dirty magazines.

Somebody else lives here, hiding away, and that is a strange dishevelled man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a grinning, garrulous guy who befriends these lonely and unhappy boys and makes them his special secret friends. But back on the mainland, they see Mud’s face on a Wanted picture – and danger looms.

Mud is obviously inspired by Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and also takes something of its style from Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. The look and feel of the picture brings to mind Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me – but, despite the intensely American flavour, I also found myself thinking of Whistle Down The Wind, The Go-Between and the adventure tradition of Treasure Island.

The boys are soon to discover that Mud has a difficult emotional life, and all the male characters, from the youngest to the oldest, seem to share a certain self-pitying romantic fascination with faithless womankind. Poor Mud is still hopelessly stuck on his childhood sweetheart Juniper – a small role for Reese Witherspoon – with whom he plans to get out of town once and for all. He begs the boys to take a letter to Juniper, and the messengers soon find that Juniper has secrets of her own, and that none of thee adults is telling them the whole truth.

It’s the kind of story which exists in the past tense – a vivid childhood memory – and I was forever expecting a narrative voiceover from the grownup Ellis to come in, as if in an episode of TV’s The Wonder Years, to tell us that after that summer, things would never be the same again. Probably refreshingly, Nichols leaves this device alone.

Ellis’s own romantic career is resolved a little too easily and the movie’s climax is very melodramatic, but Mud is an engaging and good-looking picture with two bright leading performances from Sheridan and Lofland.

McConaughey, Witherspoon Debut ‘Mud’: Did Fest Save One Of The Best For Last?

Judging from the bad buzz that has haunted it since a 2PM buyers screening on May 16, the first day of the 65th Cannes Film Festival, you might have thought FilmNation’s Mud was as appealing at its title. One published report a couple of days later said despite the fact it is one of the few movies with major stars still up for grabs and looking for distribution that “it didn’t take long for the theatre to start clearing out” including Harvey Weinstein who supposedly left after 20 minutes according to the report.

Well, those guys may have blown it. Now on the last day of official competition screenings Mud, which features big names like Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon and was directed and written by Take Shelter‘s Jeff Nichols, finally had its long-awaited press screening Saturday morning (official premiere is tonight) as the last of the 22 entries to be shown to the media and the response was clearly a lot more enthusiastic than what came out of that ill-fated first buyers screening (a second one was held a few days later). In fact it received by far the biggest applause I have yet heard at one of these 8:30AM screenings. Usually there’s just a trickle, if any from the jaded press. Not this time.

The coming-of-age drama about two 14-year-old boys who befriend a mysterious stranger (McConaughey) on a deserted island just off the Mississippi (it was shot in Arkansas) and form a unique relationship even as he turns out to be wanted for murder, is a beautifully shot, directed and acted American film. I found echoes of Tom Sawyer, Stand By Me and Shane in this impressive work. In fact one of the boys even has a “Shane” moment when he cries out Mud’s name. In addition to terrific performances from all the adults it features remarkable work from Tye Sheridan whose character Ellis is at the center of the story, and Jacob Lofland making his film debut as his best friend, Neckbone. Sheridan incidentally is only 15 but this is his second competition film in Cannes. He played Steve in last year’s Palme d’Or winner, The Tree Of Life. In fact one of that film’s producers, Sarah Green, is also a Mud producer and recommended him for the role. It’s a great performance for an actor at any age.

As the second deep south movie set around a body of water to premiere here in the last two days it is interesting to see the wildly different visions of the region and relationships from Nichols and Lee Daniels who directed the steamy southern potboiler The Paperboy which featured another starry cast also including McConaughey. In fact at this morning’s press conference one Greek journalist stood up to say McConaughey’s career-stretching roles here make him one of the Cannes Fest’s “revelations” this year. It is the actor’s first visit to Cannes and he’s clearly choosing more challenging, indie-style projects than the romantic studio comedies he was trapped in for so long. When I talked to him at the after-party for Paperboy he agreed his career is headed in a different, more exciting direction. He also was blown away by the applause at the end of The Paperboy after Thursday night’s official premiere (unlike the press screening which barely had any – and some boos). Cannes Festival director Thierry Fremaux told people associated with the film that (despite some blistering reviews) it received the longest sustained applause of any film in Cannes this year (clocked at 16 minutes, far ahead of every other film to date and comparable to what Drive got last year). “I have never done any stage work so to hear all that applause and take it in was a completely different experience for me. I’ve never had that before,” McConaughey told me. He better get used to it because I believe there will be a lot more where that came from after Mud’s World Premiere tonight.

At the press conference Nichols, who won last year’s Critics Week prize for Take Shelter only to be invited to the big competition this year, explained that for him the one thematic tie or thread to the movie is romantic love (Mud’s troubles begin with his idealistic undying passionate love for Witherspoon’s less than pure character). “The best tool I had in holding it together is the character of the boy, Ellis. I put it all through his eyes. He’s a boy desperately searching for a version of love that works,” he said noting that all the adults around him certainly don’t have that level of ideal love in their lives. “In love you get banged up and bruised up but for some reason you go after it again.”

McConaughey said his title character is a real example of carrying unconditional love for this woman and through that (misguided in this case) perspective tries to help Ellis see it is not completely hopeless to find the real thing.

Witherspoon said she normally steers clear of supporting roles (she has just a handful of scenes) but couldn’t resist the script and was assured by Nichols that it really is an ensemble piece overall so she signed on. “I grew up with my brother in a creek with a dirt bike in Tennessee and it just felt like home, and you never get to see home on screen. There are very few films about the South that are accurate and authentic. I think this one is. It’s an amazing story about the discovery of love and I am so happy to be a part of it,” she said.

As for the boys, Nichols said it was remarkable to find boys who could hunt, fish, fall down a hole, get covered with snakes and just jump on a dirt bike and take off. He said both showed real talent even if they felt they were just playing themselves.

Nichols says he shot the movie in Super 35MM scope and worries that one day he will have to switch to digital because he says he doesn’t know if he can make a movie that way. “I like big sweeping movies and applying that to the place I come from,” he said. The Cannes screening was projected digitally though and ran into a snag about half way through when scenes overlapped and the picture became distorted. It was finally fixed after loud protests from the audience but even that snafu couldn’t break the spell of this film which actually feels like the perfect blend of commericial appeal and artistic integrity. Why don’t studios want this kind of thing anymore?

Nichols, asked for his cinematic inspirations, said he was no film expert but had a handful of favorites, almost all starring Paul Newman mentioning Butch Cassidy, Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler and Hud (rhymes with Mud?). I would add another Newman classic, The Long Hot Summer, another deep south film that uses the river in its opening sequence to great sprawling effect.

Twitter reactions after the screening were upbeat and positive but some speculated the film may be too “Hollywood” to win prizes here. Juries do tend to be a little more esoteric. The biggest prize for this fine film would be to find a good distributor who gets the idea that human stories can be a really nice antidote to superheroes and Battleships.

Cannes Review: ‘Mud’ Starring Matthew McConaughey Is An Underwhelming Anti-Fairy Tale

“Mud,” American writer/director Jeff Nichols’ underwhelming follow-up to the masterfully visceral “Take Shelter,” is both a shallow and contrived coming of age story. While both ‘Shelter’ and “Shotgun Stories,” Nichols’ promising debut feature, explore their respective characters’ motives and emotions, “Mud” instead offers pat sentiments and bland bathos.

While his parents talk about separating, Ellis (Tye Sheridan, one of the boys in Malick’s “The Tree Of Life”), an adolescent native of DeWitt, Arkansas, helps Mud (an accomplished performance from Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive, reunite with his lover. Ellis isn’t initially sure why he confides in Mud. But ultimately, Ellis sticks by the titular Byronic redneck in a predictably vain attempt to understand his parents’ break-up and why self-evident displays of affection cannot be taken at face value. Every ounce of mystery and promise established in the first half hour of “Mud” evaporates once it becomes clear that Nichols is more earnestly interested in using Mud to disabuse Ellis of his romantic ideals. “Mud” isn’t a dud because it’s more easy-going or more bloated than Nichols’s previous films, though it is both of those things. It’s a misfire because unlike Nichols’s previous narratives, “Mud” just isn’t as well-conceived or even that theoretically rewarding.

Ellis spends much of “Mud” ignoring the obvious ways that the people he cares about don’t conform to his expectations. He ignores repeated warnings from people like concerned neighbor Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), who insists Mud isn’t the good person Ellis thinks he is. And with the help of his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), Ellis decides to help Mud reunite with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), Mud’s fair-weather lover. Juniper is, in other words, not the “pretty” and loyal person Mud makes her out to be, either. In that sense, it’s essential for Ellis’s growth as a character for him to reluctantly see for himself just how unfaithful Juniper is (a bar scene that establishes this point is especially tedious).

The same is true of Ellis’s clichéd and crassly manipulative relationship with May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), an older teenager that’s just not as into Ellis as he is into her. At first, Ellis just takes it as a given that he’s momentarily impressed May Pearl because he decked a senior that tried to push her around. But as we immediately see, May Pearl deliberately doesn’t answer Ellis when he asks her to be his girlfriend, preferring instead to respond with a kiss on the lips. So again, for Ellis to grow up, he’s got to see that a punch in the mouth is not the same thing as being chivalrous and that a kiss on the lips is not a confession of love.

Worse still, the real reason why Ellis needs to learn these lessons from everyone but his parents is both the most disappointing and the most intentionally under-developed subplot in “Mud.” In the film’s introductory scene, Ellis’s parents Senior and Mary Lee (the equally exceptional duo of Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) start to fight while he sneaks out to meet Neckbone. Senior and Mary Lee are the most interesting characters in the film, especially since Mary Lee and Senior may disagree about how to discipline Ellis but are united in their flinty affection for him. But since Ellis is apparently only able to become sufficiently disillusioned by proxy in “Mud,” Ellis’s parents are only supporting characters at best. So while Ellis’s parents are the most fully realized characters in “Mud,” Nichols’s film isn’t unfortunately (directly) about them.

The same is true of Neckbone’s uncle Galen (the sorely wasted Michael Shannon), a womanizing loner that makes his living by digging up clams. When Galen is introduced, Neckbone is told by Galen’s latest conquest not to grow up to be like his irresponsible and ungentlemanly uncle. But as we see, Galen is actually one of the most sensitive, though hardly perceptive, characters in the film. In time, Galen notices Neckbone and Ellis’s trips to visit Mud and gets worried. And he even tries to gently steer Neckbone and Ellis towards telling someone they trust about Mud. But because he’s not a burly, mysterious, conflicted antihero like Mud, Galen’s also not the guy Ellis learns his lesson from. “Mud” is as unmoving as it is because aims so low that it doesn’t aspire to be anything other than a competent anti-fairy tale whose paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists.

Cannes 2012: Jeff Nichols’ Mud

Some film critics have described Jeff Nichols’ Mud as the perfect way to end Cannes 2012, a fun and accessible slice of cinematic Americana. But considering the film’s hammy sentimentality and bogus emotional connections, I can’t think of a more disappointing send off, especially considering the promise Nichols showed in his first two films, the great Shotgun Stories and equally excellent Take Shelter. Both examine generational trauma in sobering ways, never shying from the physical and psychological consequences caused by familial denial and repression. Complex yarns about people in transition grappling with daily uncertainty, each film is vital in its own way. If Mud lacks anything, it’s this sense of vitality. While it’s as equally concerned with change as Nichol’s previous work, Mud fails to instill palpable tension in its very standard and melodramatic story.

Like so many of its genre forefathers, Mud’s coming-of-age fable begins with children on a mission: best friends Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) sneak out into the early Arkansas morning to visit a desolate island deep in the swamp where a large boat is nestled snugly in the branches of a tall tree. During their trip, the boys come across Mud (Matthew McConaughy), a mysterious and charming stranger lampooned on the island after fleeing his murder conviction of a wealthy Texas businessman.

Ellis quickly develops an admiration for Mud, whose sad story of unrequited love involving an old flame named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) sparks a romantic key in the youngster’s heart. Ellis’s devout belief in strong emotional ties becomes a key motivating factor as well, especially when Mud tasks the boys to be his go-betweens with the mainland, bringing food, supplies, and later critical intelligence about the gang of Texas bounty hunters on his tail.

Mud’s languishing, plot-heavy story swirls around in circles, establishing conflicts through long bursts of exposition and simplistic thematic groupings. Ellis’s troubled home life becomes an obvious parallel with the other failing relationships in the film, leaving little in the way of mystery when it comes to character relationships. While McConaughy has a blast turning Mud into a semi-delusional narcissist, nuanced performers like Michael Shannon and Sarah Paulson are wasted on the periphery. Thankfully, newcomer Sheridan is consistently excellent at exuding both confidence and fear in the more intense sequences.

Nichols’s eye for compositions is still apparent in Mud, but the visuals often lack poetic essence, an emotional connection between nature and the characters themselves. While the wide-screen compositions in Take Shelter give the film danger, possibility, even dread, there’s no such dimension in Mud, which is incredibly safe it both it’s depiction of location and regional identity.

What’s most heinous about this Southern potboiler is its sluggish pace and complete disregard for female complexity. The men of Mud are dense, dumb, or delusional and the women voiceless, timid, or disloyal. Characters like these are neither interesting nor lasting, and Nichols’s sudden right turn into mainstream melodrama, littered with easy answers and clean-cut denouements, is frustrating to say the least. We’ve come to expect brilliant regional cinema from Nichols, and maybe after just two films it’s unfair to have such high hopes. But with Mud he’s delivered a collection of safe conventions strung together by faux-lyricism, something that’s tough to dismiss during any point of a director’s career.

Reese Witherspoon Shows Off Her Baby Bump at Cannes

She endured a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles, but you’d never know it when a pregnant Reese Witherspoon showed up at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday in a form-fitting black jersey dress that showed off her bump.

Witherspoon, who also wore dangling diamond earrings and sky-high fuchsia stilettos, flew to Cannes with her husband Jim Toth to promote her new movie, Mud, which premieres Saturday at the festival.

The actress’s presence at Cannes while pregnant was all the more surprising given what a small role she has in Mud.

The new film, written and directed by 33-year-old indie darling Jeff Nichols, stars Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive hiding on an island in the Mississippi River. Two teenage boys discover him and try to reunite him with his true love, played by Witherspoon, as bounty hunters close in on him.

Witherspoon said Saturday at a press conference that she was drawn to the script because it reminded her of her own childhood in Tennessee.

“I grew up with my brother in a creek, riding dirt bikes, dirt fishing, everything you see the boys in the movie doing,” she said. “When I read Jeff’s script, it felt like home. It’s a beautiful story about the place I’m from.”

But she hesitated before taking the part because she didn’t want to overshadow the rest of the cast or the movie itself.

“I like supporting roles but you have to be careful because [big stars] sometimes pull the focus away from the rest of the movie,” she said. “But Jeff assured me it was an ensemble movie – and it was.”

Nichols said he “needed” Witherspoon.

“Even if her screen time is limited and, bless her heart, I kept her in a motel room most of the time, she still managed to look good,” he said. “I needed someone who, when she showed up, it was like, she’s here! She had to be believable and stand out at the same time.”

Witherspoon and Toth arrived at the festival Thursday and managed to make it to a dinner for Nicole Kidman’s racy new film The Paperboy.

Mud tries to capture “a dying way of life” in America’s South

The slate of competition films at the Cannes film festival ended the way it began, with an American director’s very particular look at a specific part of his country.

The festival kicked off on May 16 with the premiere of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, set in 1965 New England. For the final red-carpet gala on Saturday, it was the South’s turn.

“The South is fleeting,” director Jeff Nichols said of his new film, Mud, which is set on the Mississippi River in Arkansas. “It’s a dying way of life. I wanted to capture a snapshot of a place that . . . won’t be there forever.”

The film stars Matthew McConaughey (also in Cannes with Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy) as Mud, a wanted man hiding out on an island in the middle of the river. He’s discovered by two 14-year-old boys who decide to help him after he tells them the story of the love of his life, played by Reese Witherspoon.

The boys are Ellis and Neckbone, played by young actors Tye Sheridan and Jacobo Lofland. Ellis is particularly struck by Mud’s story, since his parents are splitting up and he’s fallen for an older girl at school.

“He’s everywhere, he’s observant and he is in desperate need of understanding of his feelings,” Nichols said of the character. “This boy is desperately searching for a version of love that works, and the adults around him in some particular instances are just really bad examples.”

McConaughey waxed rhapsodic on the theme. “The first time you’re in love it’s roofless,” he said. “There’s nothing grounding about it; there’s nothing reasonable about it – thank God!”

With the river setting, the young boys and an escaped convict, comparisons to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were inevitable, and freely admitted by Nichols. He even has a character (played by Sam Shepard) named Tom Blankenship, after the real-life inspiration for Huck Finn.

“If you’re going to steal stuff from somebody you should steal from somebody really intelligent,” he said, adding he has been a fan of the book since he read it as a child. “It imprints on your mind and it finds its way into what you do.”

If he hadn’t admitted to as much, one of his young stars would doubtless have done so for him. They were given The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to read as preparation for their parts. “We found a lot of stuff that happened to wander onto the script,” said Lofland. “We did question Jeff on that.”

Nichols’ previous film, Take Shelter, won the Critics Week Grand Prize in Cannes last year. He praised his young actors, pointing out that they were from the South (rather than Hollywood) and that they arrived knowing how to ride motorbikes and drive motorboats as they do in the movie.

“Whatever I needed them to do,” he said. “ `Hey jump down that hole and I’ll throw snakes on you.’ `All right.’ ”

Sheridan also appeared in last year’s Palme d’Or winner, The Tree of Life. He does a stellar job of quietly portraying a young man on the cusp of adulthood, trying to define the feelings in his heart.

“They weren’t just freewheeling,” Nichols concurred. “There’s some real talent there.”

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