Mud is an independent film that has a decent story and some good actors. As with many indie films, there are pacing issues. But the tale unfolds nicely, revealing several intriguing characters and subplots.
Mathew McConaughey stars in the title role, but the movie’s name also refers to the river that plays a vital role in Mud’s story.
Mud has a Tom and Huck feel to it with two boys on the cusp of puberty, who spend huge amounts of time on the river. Ellis and Neckbone (played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) both have family issues. Ellis is dealing with his parents’ divorce; Neckbone’s folks are unknown. (He lives with his uncle, played by the always-interesting Michael Shannon.)
Mud (the character, not the movie) is a fugitive who’s living on an island in the river. Ellis and Neckbone become chums and provide him with food and other goods. Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon shows up in town. She is Mud’s on-and-off girlfriend, Juniper.
Following close behind Juniper are bounty hunters, out to avenge Mud’s crime. Among the bounty hunters is Joe Don Baker, best known for his portrayal of Buford Pusser in the original Walking Tall—forty years ago! Also in the cast is Sam Shephard, looking older than 69 (his actual age), as a wizened river rat who is an ally of Mud.
Mud gives us a slice of modern day life in small town America. The southeast Arkansas town in Mud is like hundreds of other towns across the Midwest and the South. It’s certainly not as distinctive as Hannibal was in Tom and Huck’s day, but it shows us who live in cities what it’s like in the hinterlands.
I have joked that there is apparently a law stating that any Mathew McConaughey movie must contain at least one scene in which he is shirtless. In Mud, one of his character’s favorite possessions is a white shirt that he wears throughout the film—until, with less than a half hour to go, he takes it off, for no apparent reason. Except maybe to obey that law.
A movie like Mud depends on good performances from the kid actors. Sheridan and Lofland are up to the task. They’re not going to be Oscar winners, but they each do commendable work.
Despite its flaws, Mud is an entertaining film for true river rats as well as for those whose river time is spent crossing them on highway bridges.