Mud is a coming-of-age tale that feels a bit like a modern Huckleberry Finn, mixed with a young-adult romance novel.
Yet there is something both engaging and unique about Jeff Nichols' plain-spoken tale of youngsters learning hard lessons about the nature of love and the darker side of the adult world. It's not a film aimed at tweens or even teens, but it has more on its mind than simple moralizing about kids learning that adults have feet of mud, er, clay.
At the center of the film, which opens in limited release Friday (4/26/13), are two 14-year-old friends in a small Arkansas town: Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Ellis owns a duckboat with a small outboard motor and, contrary to his parents' wishes, he takes it regularly from the tributary on which they live out into the Mississippi.
It's summer and the friends have a project in mind: On a deserted island in the middle of the river, they've discovered a speedboat sitting in a tree, deposited there by a flood. It's their vacation goal to somehow get it down and fix it up as their own.
Just one problem: When they climb the tree to get into the boat, they discover that someone is living in it. He says his name is Mud and, as played by Matthew McConaughey, he's exactly the kind of romantic outlaw type that beguiles young adolescents. The fact that he's living in the wild -- and carries a gun -- makes him that much more intriguing, and the story he tells them -- about being on the run after killing the man who hurt the woman Mud loves -- seals the deal.
He tells them that, in fact, his project is to get the boat down from the tree and escape the bounty hunters on his trail, running away with the woman he loves, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who is coming to meet him. He enlists the boys' help to get the gear he needs, promising to give them his pistol in return for taking the boat.
There are other forces swirling around Ellis as well.
This review continues on my website.