By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Mud (Roadside Attractions)
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Joe Don Baker, Johnny Cheek, Bonnie Sturdivant, Stuart Greer.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols.
They are the most painful, the most frustrating and the sweetest endeavor known to man. Are they worth the trouble? That's the main question of Mud, a new film starring Matthew McConaughey as a drifter trying to evade bounty hunters and the law.
McConaughey portrays “Mud,” a man living on an isolated Arkansas river island, where two boys find him staying inside an abandoned boat. The boys are Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two young men whose families live off the river, selling bait, fish or other aquatic discoveries. Mud makes a deal with the boys, promising to give them his handgun if they will help him gather the parts he needs to fix the boat. The boys also agree to help locate Mud's long lost love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who is staying in a nearby motel, hoping to meet up with him later.
Neckbone lives with his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), who makes a living drudging the river looking for clams and other valuable items. Ellis lives on a houseboat with his mother (Sarah Paulson) and father (Ray McKinnon), who are having marital troubles. Ellis (only 14 years old) also falls in love with Mae Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), a beautiful senior in the local high school. Mae Pearl agrees to a date with Ellis after he punches a senior boy while defending her honor.
When the boys meet up with Juniper, they discover that Mud is on the run for killing a man while defending her honor. They also discover that the dead man's father (Joe Don Baker) and brother (Paul Sparks) have hired bounty hunters to track Mud down and kill him. The boys keep Mud's location a secret while passing messages between him and Juniper. The boys also learn that Mud has an old friend named Tom Blankenship living across the river from Ellis. Tom was once a government sniper, and warns the boys to stay away.
As the boat repairs near completion, Ellis finds out that his mother plans to leave his dad, things aren't going to work out with Mae Pearl, and that Juniper isn't that faithful to Mud. During one last visit to the island, Ellis falls into a pit of poisonous snakes, forcing Mud to risk his life to save the boy. After a wild ride to the local hospital where Ellis gets the anti-venom he needs, the bounty hunters track Mud down to the boy's home, where a big gun battle ensues.
Mud is a decent movie about love, and the risks one takes to pursue it. It would seem that writer/director Jeff Nichols doesn't have a lot of faith in women (since every single female in the movie betrays the men in their lives – in one way or another), but perhaps he believes the love of a woman is worth the trouble, despite the risks. I'm not sure if the idea that all women will betray the men that pursue them is an accurate picture of the fairer sex, but Mud gets credit for offering a little hope.
McConaughey gives one of his best performances as Mud, but it doesn't seem like much of a stretch from his own personality. Then again, maybe Mud represents the better part of McConaughey's persona. The best performances come from Sheridan and Lofland as the young boys learning about the hard knocks of life and love. Ray McKinnon also stands out as Ellis' tough, yet vulnerable dad, a man trying to keep his home together while helping his boy become a man.
So, give Mud a chance. If you're a man in love with a woman, give her a chance, too.
I think women are worth it.
Oh, and one more thing...
If you are a lady who thinks Matthew McConaughey should have at least one "shirtless" scene in every movie, you will not be disappointed, making Mud worth your while, too.