Review: 'Mud' oozes traditional qualities
This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows Reese Witherspoon in a scene from "Mud." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Jim Bridges)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The story of a sympathetic fugitive who forges a bond with two teenage boys near a mighty river down South, "Mud" is shot through with traditional qualities of American literature and drama. Jeff Nichols' much-anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough second feature "Take Shelter" feels less adventurous and unsettling but remains a well-carpentered piece of work marked by some fine performances and resilient thematic fiber.
Nearly every relationship in Nichols's screenplay is threatened, fractured or broken. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) has good reason to believe that his parents (Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon) are headed for a divorce, while his best pal, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), is being raised by his oyster-diving uncle Galen (Michael Shannon). Ellis, who's 14, lives in a funky old houseboat while the nearby Arkansas town is a characterless wasteland of large chain stores and housing developments.
This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows Tye Sheridan, left, Jacob Lofland, and Matthew McConaughey, right, in a scene from "Mud." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Jim Bridges)
On a deserted island out in the Mississippi, the boys stumble into the grizzled, unkempt Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who's hiding out in an old boat stuck up in a tree. Even though Mud soon admits that he's killed a man in a dispute, the boys are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and, in exchange for the promise that they can have the boat once he's done, they start ferrying food across to him in a launch.
Nichols readily admits the influence of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" on his story, in addition to those of other Southern writers. Such stories were formerly staples of American writing and there's enough dramatic and emotional meat on this one to suspect that audiences would easily engage with it. The title character is a perennial, a flawed man who admits the error of his ways and hopes for a second chance in the face of those who vengefully seek to take him down.