Though its title is tiny and unassuming, “Mud” is a big movie presenting an authentic portrait of modern hard luck life in the south in the tradition of classic southern novels from the past. Set in Arkansas along a remote section of the Mississippi River, writer-director Jeff Nichols has crafted a beautiful story of unrequited love, heartbreak and growing up that also incorporates a touch of crime-thriller. This follow up to 2011’s thought provoking “Take Shelter” may only be his third film, but Nichols has given us a modern classic that should top your DVD must-see list.
The story centers around young teenage boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). These modern day incarnations of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Scout and Jem, sneak off to an island to claim an abandoned boat stuck in a tree after a hurricane. They find the boat inhabited by Mud (Matthew McConaughey), an enigmatic and superstitious charmer and hopeless romantic full of stories that may have a grain of truth in them somewhere. He enlists the boys' help in reuniting him with his old flame Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and escaping some nasty bounty hunters.
Sheridan previously appeared in “The Tree of Life” and Lofland is a real Arkansan making his astounding debut. Both are brilliantly authentic boy wonders. With Ellis’ tough romantic boy version of Mud and Neckbone’s cautious and untrusting pal with a limited four letter word strewn yet perfect and inoffensive vocabulary, they give two of the finest and most ingratiating performances you are likely to see this or any year. McConaughey does his most honest and unaffected work with a spot-on performance in a role tailor made for him. And Witherspoon authentically gives us a trampy sexy and sympathetic young woman doomed to make very bad choices.
The equally authentic and stellar supporting cast includes Sam Shepard doing some of his best work, a heartbreaking Ray McKinnon as Ellis’ father, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon and Joe Don Baker. They all add up to the perfect cast meeting the perfect script in a perfectly photographed movie that gently washes over you, takes you away and brings you back but begs you to revisit it just as you would an old friend.
“Mud” is now available at your Roanoke County Public Libraries.