“Framed from the point of view of two foolhardy Arkansas teens, 14-year-old Ellis and best friend Neckbone, MUD poses as a mere adolescent adventure tale but explores a rich vein of grown-up concerns, exploring codes of honor, love and family too solid to be shaken by modernizing forces. With trouble brewing at home, Ellis dares his less assertive sidekick to accompany him to an island where rumors tell of a boat stranded high in the trees by the latest flood. One of those symbolic gestures of youthful independence, the trip takes the boys beyond the boundaries sanctioned by Ellis’ parents and Neckbone’s uncle Galen (Michael Shannon)—which would be exciting enough, even without the surprise discovery that an outlaw calling himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey) has made camp in the wrecked ship. Though everything from police roadblocks to menacing bounty hunters suggest that Mud means trouble, the two boys put unwavering trust in his far-fetched stories, with Ellis especially taken with the idea that this redneck Romeo’s past and future crimes are all born out of love for a gal named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Sending Ellis back into town with a message for his lady friend, Mud cautions, “You gotta watch yourself,” and those words serve as an unofficial mantra for the savvy young man’s growing self-reliance. With David Wingo’s subtle score easing audiences into the rhythm of the locale, the film patiently witnesses Ellis’ growing disillusionment with adults, even as he makes his clumsy first steps toward becoming one: punching out a senior to defend a high-school girl’s honor, secretly defying his parents to nick food and supplies for Mud, and so forth. One part THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, two parts HUCKLEBERRY FINN, MUD may be born of the same rustic sensibility that fueled everyone from Andrew Wyeth to Terrence Malick, but director Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER) expresses this outlook in a decidedly personal way.”—Peter DeBruge, Variety. PG-13. 130 Min.
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