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TBTS Reviews: Mud

May 14, 2013
Mud poster

I went into this movie almost completely blind, which I almost never do. I don’t do well with movies that I know absolutely nothing about. I need a basic structure, an outline, something to help me manage my expectations. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Mud starts off enigmatically. A boy in his early teens sneaks out of a run-down boathouse and meets his friend in the woods. We learn that this is Ellis, and his friend is “Neckbone;” two poor boys who live a hardscrabble life on the   Arkansas River. On an island some distance upriver, Ellis and Neck find a boat lodged in a tree, likely placed there by the last major flood. The boys decide to claim it as their own, a “secret hideout” of sorts, but Ellis soon discovers that someone else has been staying there. Back on the beach, they encounter a mysterious dude (Matthew McConaughey). Though nonthreatening,  this dude is definitely someone to be wary of. Ellis, being a sympathetic lad, agrees to bring some food back. Thus begins an uneasy friendship between dude, who later self-identifies as “Mud,” and the boys. They help him get the boat out of the tree and restore it to working order, and he spins a life story that intrigues our two impressionable heroes. Mud is on this island because he’s a fugitive. He killed a man in Texas, ostensibly in defense of his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Not only are the State Police looking for him, but the wealthy family of Mud’s victim has put hired killers on the trail as well.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s clear that Ellis is our main character. As the story unfolds, we find out that Ellis has an unhappy home life. His parents are on the verge of divorce. He’s a sensitive young man, with high, romantic ideals about love and commitment. Ultimately, the story is about his disillusionment with these ideals. Through Mud’s personal story, and the later revelations about the truth (or lack thereof) in his yarn, Ellis loses some of his innocence. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland (Ellis and Neckbone, respectively) do a superb job for such young actors, especially Sheridan.

And, of course, McConaughey takes his shirt off.

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