By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — His name now is anything but mud.
Matthew McConaughey continues his career resurgence with another strong performance, following his admirable work in, among other titles, The Lincoln Lawyer and Magic Mike, either of which could have earned him an Oscar nomination.
Mud, named for the character he plays, centers on two Arkansas 14-year-olds, Ellis and Neckbone, played respectively by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, who discover a fugitive vagrant holed up on a deserted island on the Mississippi River after murdering a rival for the affections of his childhood sweetheart, Juniper, played fleetingly by Reese Witherspoon.
The charismatically garrulous and mysterious Mud is not only wanted by the authorities but is also being sought by bounty hunters and members of the murder victim’s family.
The boys have come upon a boat oddly cradled in a treetop following a recent flood. Mud asks their help both in repairing the boat and in getting messages to his lady love, who has taken shelter in a nearby motel and with whom Mud hopes to reunite.
Ellis is only too happy to help because he identifies with Mud’s plight and thinks they might be kindred spirits: Ellis, too, has a local girl he loves from afar.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols follows up his impressive apocalyptic drama Take Shelter with this engrossing adolescent tale, giving it an atmospheric Huckleberry Finn-ish with a floating-down-the-Mississippi editing rhythm and its exploration of several literal or figurative father-son relationships.
The supporting ensemble, which includes Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon (who played the lead in Nichols’ Take Shelter), Sarah Paulson, and Joe Don Baker, helps to ring the truth bell as well in this parade of fractured relationships on display.
There’s an undeniable sense of place here, a lived-in rural Arkansas that steadies and anchors the film whenever the fanciful narrative threatens to run off the rails of reality, which it does most decidedly during the extended climax, when the film gets away from Nichols a bit and depends on what has gone before to keep our disbelief suspended.
But McConaughey has by that point secured us firmly in his corner.
So we’ll float down 3 stars out of 4 for an absorbing, Southern-fried fairytale. Here’s Mud in your eyes!