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“Mud” tells the story of two boyhood friends, the vulnerable Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his straight–edge — complete with Fugazi shirt — friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). The two live near the water in Arkansas and decide to venture out to a nearby island where they hope to find a boat stuck in a tree from a recent flood. 

When they get to the boat, however, they find a man calling himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who has taken the boat for his home. Mud is the quintessential Southern campfire storyteller, a man who has nails in the shape of crosses in his boots, a wolf’s eye sewn into his shirt for protection and believes bonfires lead to good luck. 

The boys learn that Mud is living on the island while awaiting to be reunited with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). The boys agree to help Mud reunite with his girlfriend and provide him with food in exchange for the boat when Mud leaves. 

The story in Mud is exceptional. It feels like both a spacious Southern fable and a unique coming of age story at the same time. There’s a good balance of oddball elements that keep the story from getting too sappy but enough solid plotting to keep the story from veering all over the place. 

Ellis really forms the emotional center of the piece. The story starts with a tone that would suggest Southern folklore but we eventually break that down until we face a very harsh reality. This ebb and flow with the plot coincides with Ellis himself, as he begins to face the harsh realities of the world around him, we lose a lot of the special magic that makes up the first half of the film. 

In particular, I thought a scene where Ellis humiliates himself in front of a group of other kids — culminating with him declaring his love for May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) — was incredibly honest. In one moment we see get to see Ellis’ perceptions of the world get torn apart in such a painful way and I thought it was just about perfect. 

By contrast, “Mud” gives us a fantasy element that gives the story a lot more punch. As Ellis struggles to understand why his parents are divorced and how they could stop loving each other, he turns to Mud in order to try and restore his faith in the order of the world. McConaughey does the character great justice. He seems to finally have found a niche in movies that works well for him in the edgy mysterious outsider type. It worked well for him in “Killer Joe” and I think he’s equally great here, keeping “Mud” interesting but also keeping him grounded with that slow Texas drawl.

Director Jeff Nichols is an exceptional writer who also has the ability to establish tone well through his photography. I loved “Take Shelter,” the 2011 psychological thriller starring Michael Shannon, and “Mud” continues Nichols’ hot streak. He seems to be one of the great original voices working in movies today, crafting tales that are really well-scripted and bring out the best of his actors. 

Overall, I loved “Mud.” Loved every character, loved the fantastical elements, loved the harsh realism the movie could offer and really appreciated the unique spin it places on this coming of age story. It’s a tightly told story that’s visually interesting and inspires a lot of interesting characters and has a great payoff. 

I didn’t love the way Mud and Juniper’s relationship tied up — and actually I was a little confused what the movie was trying to say with their conclusion — but other than that I thought this was a tremendous film.

I like movies that can blend fantastical elements to reality well, while sending the audience on a very compelling journey. I saw more than a little of my 14-year-old self in Ellis and actually felt pretty moved by his journey. Considering that’s coming from someone who grew up in the middle of Indiana connecting with someone growing up in the backwaters of Arkansas, this movie must being doing a lot right. 


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