MUD is a timeless adventure about two boys, Ellis and his best friend Neckbone, who find a mysterious man named Mud (McConaughey) hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi. Mud tells the boys fantastic stories about his life, including how he killed a man in Texas and that vengeful bounty hunters are coming to get him. He says he is planning to meet and escape with the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon), who is waiting for him in town. Skeptical but intrigued, Ellis and Neckbone agree to help him. But it isn't long until Mud's tall tales come to life, and their small town is besieged by bounty hunters out for blood.
Matthew McConaughey's career trajectory has followed some strange currents, ranging from Next Big Dramatic Thing to Romantic Comedy Fixture to, most recently, Killer Supporting Actor. (Plotting a course between A Time to Kill and, say, Magic Mike requires an awful lot of graph paper.) One of the beauties of the superb Mud is how it allows the actor to tap into every aspect of his persona, creating a figure who drifts between hero and rogue with mesmerizing irregularity. His presence, along with a slew of talented character actors (including Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, and the great Joe Don Baker), help make this movie feel somehow both lived-in and mythic. Set deep within the Arkansas delta, the story follows two boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) exploring an island in the Mississippi river while searching for a rumored abandoned boat. Once there, they find Mud (McConaughey), a hermit who claims to be hiding out until he can be reunited with the love of his life (Reese Witherspoon). As the pair help Mud repair his boat and plan his escape, they begin to receive unsettling hints that there may be much more to the story. Writer-director Jeff Nichols, whose earlier Take Shelter offered up a terrific blend of the mystical and mundane, proves to be equally surefooted here, delivering a clear-eyed Boy's Adventure story with some tantalizing hints of Southern Gothic creeping in around the edges. Like most good yarns, Mud may meander a bit, but by the time the final scene rolls around, the digressions and offbeat character moments have combined to make this movie feel mighty special, in a distinctly Southern fashion. A tale in which a boy named Neckbone exists is one that both Flannery O'Connor and Harper Lee would've enthusiastically embraced. (Andrew Wright)