In the brilliant drama Mud, two Arkansas boys venture onto a river island and discover a man named Mud (Michael McConaughey) hiding from the authorities. Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) is a hopeless romantic, consumed by an ideal view of love. His more hard-eyed buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) is on the outlook for cool stuff. Both are ready for the excitement of a secret adventure.
Mud is another triumph for writer-director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter). The story has aspects of a boyhood adventure and of an escape thriller which hook the audience. But Mud is, at its heart, a coming of age story in which Ellis (primarily) gets a big dose of realism about love and human constancy. Neckbone doesn’t have many illusions about human nature. His parents aren’t in the picture, and he lives with his wacky uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) in a trailer. Neckbone has a knack for immediately getting to the core of situation by bargaining an errand for a pistol or asking “Didja feel her titties?”. A step down from Neckbone’s trailer lifestyle, Ellis lives on a floating shack tied to the riverbank. His parents are together, but, it seems, not for long. Somehow, Ellis believes in an ideal and forever love.
There are many relationships for Ellis to observe: his parents’ troubled journey, the sacrifices Mud makes for his lover (Reese Witherspoon), the mysterious bond between Mud and another houseboat dweller (Sam Shepherd), a rich man’s (Joe Don Baker) own obsession with his sons, his partnership with Neckbone and Ellis’ own first foray into dating. It’s all a bigger mouthful than Ellis was expecting.
The two kid actors are great. So are McConaughey, Shepherd, Witherspoon, Baker and Nichol’s favorite actor, Shannon. Mud primarily succeeds because Nichols has created compelling characters and woven a top-rate story, both gripping and thoughtful.
Mud is one of the best movies of 2013. Mud is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay, YouTube and other VOD outlets.