Movie review: Mud

June 10, 2013


Matthew McConaughey has come a long way since Dazed and Confused (1993). He’s played a surfer, a pimp, couple of good lawyers, a womanizer, and many things in between. Lately he seems to play the guy without his shirt. Though in his latest cinematic offering, McConaughey plays a fugitive who is rather attached to his shirt in the drama Mud.

Set in Arkansas not far from the Mississippi River, the movie begins with an anomaly: a boat stuck neatly among the branches of a big tree. Two fourteen year old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), sneak away on their own motorboat to reach the island where the aerial water vessel awaits. Once they find their treasured boat, the boys discover that they are not the first to do so—there’s a fresh loaf of bread and a can of Beanie Weenies waiting in the cabin.

Here Ellis and Neckbone meet McConaughey’s character, Mud. Eventually the two get the story out of Mud as to why he’s hiding out in their shipwreck. Mud shot a man dead, one who surely needed to die, in the name of love. He evaded authorities and found his way to his childhood home and this abandoned island. Here he lies in wait for his beloved.

The trouble is, being a wanted man, he can’t just hop onto the mainland to the podunk town’s Piggly Wiggly market and grab himself some provisions. Ellis feels compelled to help the tan love-struck outlaw given that he is at a particularly sensitive moment in life himself. He just discovered that his parents’ love for one another has failed; they plan on separating and moving away from the water. And he’s in love for the first time, so he wants to help Mud in some sort of redemption of romance.

What ultimately comes to light is the tenuous relationship Mud really has with his darling Juniper (played by a very tired-looking Reese Witherspoon). Trust me when I tell you Juniper is not a sympathetic character. As he learns this for himself, Ellis also has to come to terms with his own failed attempt at affection. A faithful, lasting love is a hard thing to come by in the muddy South.

The plot thickens with the boys helping Mud however they can, meeting Juniper, and learning that the dead man’s family is looking for Mud along with the police. With some cunning and a great deal of luck, Ellis and Neckbone help Mud get the boat out of the trees and repaired enough to float. Just as Mud’s getaway plan is coming together, Juniper refuses to come meet Mud to run away, and Ellis’ parents have a blow-up over what kind of man Ellis is becoming after they learn he has stolen a boat motor.

In a fit of anger, Ellis confronts Mud about being a liar and a fool, and then falls directly into a pit of cottonmouth snakes. I’ll tell you he lives, but I can’t, in good conscience, give you anything else.

The writing is fantastic, even if there are gaping holes of implausibility in the plot (like how did Mud reach the island to begin with? And why is his shirt so clean all the time?). Mud is a great effort by McConaughey, but the show is completely stolen by Tye Sheridan. Only his second acting role, this young man provides so much heart, toughness, and vulnerability all at once. I think I love him. Jacob Lofland is a great comedic foil with his Neckbone character, giving just the right balance of smart-alecky common sense to every scene. The pair are perfect. And Matthew McConaughey isn’t hard to look at, and he does seem to immerse himself in his role.

All in all I really enjoyed this movie, maybe because I’m from the middle of nowhere South, maybe because it’s been a long time since a coming of age story has been so well made.

See it at the Palm in SLO through June 13th.