Matthew McConaughey sure has come a long way from his shallow beginnings in romcom. This month, the actor – along with his southern drawl and overly tanned hide – appears in Mud, a coming-of-age story that follows the adventures of two boys living in a small Arkansas town.
A modern day Huckleberry Finn and reminiscent of my childhood favorite Stand By Me, Mud follows the two friends as they encounter a mysterious, tattooed fugitive hiding out on an island along the Mississippi river. Ellis, brilliantly played by Tye Sheridan, is a fearless 14-year old with a mature moral compass who is determined to believe in love. When he and his cynical best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find out that Mud (McConaughey) is waiting on the island in order to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Ellis takes it on himself to bring the two together.
The story gets more complicated when it’s made clear that Mud is hiding from the authorities and a band of bouncy hunters led by their boss (Joe Don Baker) for a homicide he claims was justified.
Mud is ultimately a story about love. And it is not an unrealistic version. It’s the down-and-out, bruising, hard truth about love. The film intertwines Ellis’ parents failing marriage with his own love for them, along with his own experience with his first girlfriend, and the larger story of Mud and his reunion with his childhood sweetheart (played by a dull Reese Witherspoon). The movie makes it clear that no matter how much two people love each other, love is always a struggle.
Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Iceman) plays a surprisingly small role as Neckbone’s uncouth yet endearing uncle. Sam Shepard (Killing Them Softly, Safe House) enters the story as a former marine living in a houseboat across from Ellis’ family who has an important relationship with Mud and becomes an unlikely hero in the end. Well-developed characters and striking performances set against the backdrop of the American south make this one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. ♦