90%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)

This is an enchanting and heart warming story, yet far from banal or predictable.

The 2012 drama directed by Jeff Nichols takes us down south to the banks of the Arkansas River where two young boys meet and subsequently befriend a fugitive.

From the very beginning the viewer is exposed the beauty of the South, as well as strong performances, not only from Mathew McConaughey.  14 year old Ellis(Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are inseparable. One day they reach a small deserted island on the river and find a boat on top of a tree. Immediately, they decide to claim it as their own, however the plan is short lived, as they discover someone is already living in it.
As they are about to head back home, as if out of nowhere, a man appears. The more reserved Neckbone thinks he is just a boom and encourages his friend to leave. However, Ellis is clearly intrigued by the man and agrees to help him by bringing food.
The man introduces himself as Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Despite his calm demeanor, Mud shares a story that would send anyone chills up their spine. He has killed a man who physically abused the love of his life- Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). The woman is back in town, living in a cheap motel, trying to reunite with Mud, however since Mud is running away from the police as well as the victim’s surviving son accompanied by bounty hunters, the two remain separated. As the film continues, it becomes evident that what truly separates the couple is more than just a river.
Despite Mud’s horrifying actions, he gains the boys’ trust and bonds with them. Ellis, who is just discovering what it means to have feelings for the opposite sex, thinks he should help the couple, as he believes they truly love each other. And since he cannot do anything about the disintegration of his own parents’ marriage, he clings desperately to the thought of saving someone else’s relationship. So he delivers Mud’s letters to Juniper and even offers to take her to the island to meet her lover.
Perhaps this is why the two boys are so drawn to the man. Mud gives them the attention they need but don’t get at home. While Ellis’s parents are busy fighting, Neckbone is raised by his uncle who, despite caring deeply for his nephew, lacks the maturity of a real father. Mud seems to be everything the boys need: a father, a teacher, a confidant and well, a supposedly “cool guy” young, impressionable boys look up to.
As the movie progresses, we are introduced to Ellis’s neighbor- Tom Blankenship(Sam Shepard). Tom is an older man, a father figure for Mud when he was a child. After meeting with Mud on the island, Tom refuses to help him angrily throwing in Mud’s face the fact that the murder he had committed was more than just foolish and that he should have stopped chasing Juniper a long time ago.
Tom sits Ellis down and explains Mud is a skilled liar and not the man the boy thinks he is. He attempts to break through the boy’s clouded judgment explaining Juniper doesn’t care for Mud, she only cares about herself and runs back to him whenever she is in trouble. But Ellis refuses to listen accusing the man of being old and bitter.
Since most people have to learn things the hard way, so does Ellis. When he shows up at Juniper’s room to take her to see Mud, she is not there. After getting a tip from the motel clerk, the boys head to a nearby bar where they discover her with another man.
Upon receiving bad news about Juniper’s actions, Mud decides to give up on her and continues, with the help on Neckbone, to build his escape boat. Feeling betrayed and cheated, Ellis calls Mud a liar and in furious leaves the two behind. Everything he believed and hoped for has turned out to be a lie and his world is shattered. However, the events that follow, show us that the truth is far more complex that a 14 year old boy could comprehend.

Something that deserves special recognition is McConaughey’s performance, which is so subtle yet powerful. We see him through his young friends’ eyes. We know what he has done, yet we believe in his good intentions. It is so difficult, nearly impossible to feel negatively about Mud. Matthew’s performance doesn’t make Mud bad. It makes him flawed and human, makes us in some aspects relate to him. Mud is also a romantic hero, very poetic when describing Juniper and his affection for her. This might be especially enchanting to the female part of the audience.
In many aspects, Mud is a coming-of- age story. In his transition between childhood and adulthood, Ellis discovers that situations and people are not always as they seem. And very often what people say could be far from the truth. Ellis trusts in Mud and Juniper’s love only to find out their relationship is a lot more complex and lie ridden than it seems. He realizes that despite the way parents should be- together forever, his mother and father will part ways and there is nothing he can do about it. And then his first crush- an older girl named May Pearl, who after agreeing to be his girlfriend, is spotted with a different boy causing Ellis humiliation. This is a lot to take for a young boy but the lessons here are priceless.
Having a feeling that the two boys are up to no good, Neckbone’s uncle sits Ellis down explaining his friend looks up to him and warning that the two should be wary of what they do. He shows him a ceiling fan he found in the river. On the surface it was useless, but turned out to be in working condition. He tells the boy the river carries many things and one has to know what is worth keeping and what is isn’t. This is a beautiful analogy to the people in our lives and how we interact with them. So often we find it difficult to distinguish between those worth keeping and letting go. However, through trial and error and our own judgment, we can learn.
Mud is a wonderful film, full of symbolism and high quality performance. Images of the blissful scenery in the movie stay with us long after we’ve seen it.
The movie ends in Tom and Mud looking at the mouth of the river where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. Most likely this is the most beautiful scene in the film. A symbol of never ending life transitions. All things come to an end, including bad things and there comes a time for new and better beginnings no matter how old we are.

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