Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (by Jacob Lofland) are true best friends. They know each other so well that they often don’t need to talk to know what the other’s thinking or feeling. Although they’re only 14, their friendship is long and deep. They live along the Mississippi River in Arkansas; Ellis and his parents, Senior (by Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (by Sarah Paulson) on a river houseboat, while Neck and his Uncle Galen (by Michael Shannon) live in a bungalow nearby. Senior and Galen both trawl the river daily for oysters and fish to sell in town. When they’re not at school, the boys either help fish the river or get themselves into mischief. They’ve recently discovered some exciting flood debris on a nearby island – a boat is stuck high up in a tree and they want to claim it for their hideout. One day they go over to the island before dawn to explore the boat, but when they clamber in they realise someone is aready there. A scruffy and weather-beaten stranger (by Matthew McConaughey) appears – he seems okay, but it’s weird when he tells them – “You can call me Mud …”. Ellis is drawn to him, but Neck is not so sure. As they get to know him they learn he wants the boat so he can be ready when his one true love, Juniper (by Reese Witherspoon) arrives to join him so they can be together. For Ellis, this is reason enough to trust him, so the boys agree to help him salvage the boat. Then when they’re in town they learn why he’s holed up on the island – he’s a fugitive from the police and a few people are out to get him. Ellis and Neck scavange supplies for Mud from wherever they can and when Ellis meets Juniper he’s determined to help them get away. Ellis believes love is the most important thing in life, so the boys risk everything to reunite the couple. In his own life, Ellis is grappling with the dynamics of his parents’ relationship and his own first love, the fickle May Pearl (by Bonnie Sturdivant) who confuses him endlessly. Is life always as simple as what people want? Will Mud and Juniper find true happiness together? or will Mud be hunted down before that happens? What’s the best thing for Ellis to do when all these things seem important? Why is life so confusing and difficult? ….
This movie delivers so much more than I expected. The harsh, no-frills Mississippi lifestyle is a great backdrop to this story about people who live hard lives, face hard choices and must do tough things just to survive. From his opening scene, Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the enigmatic Mud is strong and fascinating. He is multi-layered and McConaughey delivers that very well. The easy demeanour and Arkansas drawl ensures that Mud is authentic and totally believable. There are strong performances from several others too – there’s a great character portrayal of the gruff Tom, by Sam Shepard, and the personalities of Ellis’ parents by Ray McKinnon and Mary Lee are totally honest and believable. The relationships in this movie are all candid and well done. The real gem here is Tye Sheridan. He is marvellous – he naturally displays great depth with an integrity and understanding of human behaviour that is palpable – amazing from such a young actor. As Neck, Jacob Lofland really reminds me of a young River Phoenix and the atmosphere is reminscent of Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” with similar life messages. The cast and production crew have been multiply awarded – most notably are Tye Sheridan’s Las Vegas Film Critics Sierra Award, Phoenix Film Critics Best Youth Role and Washington DC Film Critics Best Youth Award. Matthew McConaughey received a Sant Jordi Award for Best Foreign Actor and the film itself won a Robert Altman Award, a National Board of Review Top Ten Independent Film Award and a Southeastern Film Critics Wyatt Award. It was also nominated for many awards by a range of Film Journalists Associations, Critics Societies and Film Festivals (most notably Sundance). It’s a very good, surprising movie – well done.
Made in 2012. Directed by Jeff Nichols.