Movie review: Mud

2012 was a busy, busy year for Matthew McConaughey; it was a year that saw the Texan-born actor make no less than four films: Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and this film Mud. And it could be argued that it's this film he gives the best performance for out of the four.

That's not to say he gives the best performance in the film however, as that accolade has to go to the film's two younger actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.

In the quiet, wet backwaters of Arkansas, two young boys enjoy the pleasure that living surrounded by water can bring.

Fourteen year olds Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland) take a small boat onto the river and go exploring. They venture further afield than usual and end up on a small island. Whilst managing to avoid the snakes there, they come across a larger boat, suspended high above in the trees. Their curiosity obviously gets the better of them and they climb the trees and jump aboard.

It looks pretty beat up and deserted, until Ellis notices that there's some fresh food inside the cabin. Knowing that someone must be living there, they soon high-tail it out of there.

They soon come across a man, whose skin is darkened by the sun, covered in tattoos. His name is Mud (McConaughey) and he is indeed the one living in the boat. He eventually tells them his story: he's come back to this area to meet someone – a woman called Juniper (Reece Witherspoon) – who he is completely in love with.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances, he can't just waltz into town and meet her, as he's a wanted man. But the boys, particularly Ellis, take pity on him, and decide to do whatever it takes to get these two lovers back together again. But as they soon discover, the fact that Mud's a wanted man, doesn't help their cause.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols (who wrote and directed last year's Take Shelter has created modern day equivalents of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in Ellis and Neckbone; the pair are the catalyst for the events that take place within the film, as they satiate their appetite for exploration on the waters of Arkansas.

It's their friendship that acts as glue, holding the film together. It's a coming of age tale, that despite being a completely different beast, has fond echoes of Stand by Me, specifically the Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and Chris (River Phoenix) relationship.

Nichols is also clearly an attractive director for actors, as the likes of Witherspoon, Sam Shepherd and his regular muse Michael Shannon, are happy to appear in what are relatively small roles.

And although the two youngsters steal the show, McConaughey does well with the flesh and bones of his character as he slowly reveals the intriguing layers of the mysterious stranger he portrays. Although his dishevelled, Robinson Crusoe-esque appearance looks authentic, it appears that perhaps the actor wasn't prepared to go the full way as far as any method acting is concerned if his whiter-than-white gnashers are anything to go by.

The film's pace may not be to everyone's liking – it purrs gently along with the enthusiasm of an outboard motor – but it benefits from not being rushed.

At its heart, and it has a pretty big one at that, is a story of a young boy's voyage of discovery, as he attempts to get to grips with the notion of true love for himself and those around him. Despite its earthy appearance, Mud is a surprisingly fragile tale that is both tender and touching.

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