04/29/2013 05:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2013

Popcorn Preview: Mud

Film: Mud (2012)
Cast includes: Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer), Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life), Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Sarah Paulson (Game Change), Ray McKinnon (The Blind Side), Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Joe Don Baker (Cape Fear)
Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter)
Genre: Mystery | Suspense | Thriller | Drama (130 minutes)

Ellis isn't sure what's going on, but he overhears his parents, at it again as he sneaks off the houseboat before dawn to meet his friend, Neckbone. The island's farther than they thought, and Ellis's "Dad'll kill us if he knows we went way out here." They leave the motorboat on the shore and head into the woods. "Galen thinks the last flood did it." It's a big boat stuck about 20 feet up in a tree. "Who else knows about this?" "Just me and Galen." "Good, cus this boat's ours," says Ellis. Inside the boat, they explore every nook and cranny. The discovery of a pile of Penthouse magazines is a real treasure trove for a couple of teenaged boys with freshly raging hormones. But the discovery of a loaf of bread changes things. "Someone's living on our boat." No time to investigate... they've gotta get back. Whose prints are those by the boat? They've got crosses in the heel. "Nails in the shape of crosses to ward off the evil spirits," says the leathery stranger. Ellis and Neckbone aren't sure what to make of him, but he says, "I like you two boys." As it turns out, the stranger wants to make a deal... help out for a few days in exchange for the boat when he leaves.

Ellis is late getting home, and Dad's already loaded the fish in the truck. Life's hard for folks scratching out a livelihood on this Arkansas section of the Mississippi River. "This river brings a lot of trash down it. You gotta know what's worth keeping and what's worth letting go." Even people's homes are made of stuff others throw out. When the boys meet up later, Ellis says he wants to help the stranger by bringing food. "You never said your name," says Ellis. "Mud. You can call me Mud." They learn that Mud's waiting on his girlfriend... "blond hair, long legs and birds tattooed right here on her hand... good-luck birds" Neckbone thinks they can make a better deal, so he bargains for that pistol Mud carrys in his waistband. Ellis wants to help because he knows Mud really loves the girl with the bird tattoo. The police have a roadblock... they're asking everyone if they've "seen this man." It's a photo of Mud. "What'd he do?" No answer. Back in town, the long-legged, blond stranger does indeed have a bird tattoo on her hand. There are also some men around town, driving big fancy cars.

Mud says he's not dangerous. "Sounds like a shit load of state troopers think different." Mud is a coming-of-age story, wrapped in a suspense thriller, intertwined with a family drama... with shades of Stand by Me and Beast of the Southern Wild. Writer/director Jeff Nichols is an Arkansas native, and he totally transports us to to a world that's off the grid, where you have to be self-reliant to survive. And that's the way folks like it. "I ain't no townie," Ellis says when he learns he might have to live with Mom in town. Ellis is learning some hard lessons about love right now. Maybe that's why he's drawn to Mud... until he suspects Mud has let him down, too. His dad says, "You can't trust love." Mud's got a different way of thinking. "It's a hell of a thing, ain't it!"

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Teenaged boys are excited to lay claim to a boat stuck up in a tree, until they learn it's inhabited by a fugitive named Mud

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13 (Violence)
Audience: Young adults
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment

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