With only a pistol and his magic white shirt to his credit, the scruffy, superstitious Mud captivates Ellis, who brings him food and teases out Mud's story--on the run after killing a man in defense of his true love, whom he'll rendezvous with soon. Enamored of his own first love, disillusioned with his bickering parents, Ellis yearns for Mud's apparently idyllic love even as he struggles with his own affection.
Anchored in Ellis' point of view, "Mud" takes what could easily have been a trite, lackluster story and finds the human connections amidst the real-world relationships. Writer/director Jeff Nichols presents the sobering experiences in an unusual way; namely, he appreciates the intelligence of these teenage boys. They exhibit a sense of humor, support each other, evaluate the situation and their own motives. In other words, they're much more than the usual Hollywood cardboard cutouts, and the story is enriched by this.
As a filmmaker, Nichols says that movement inspires him. His numerous steadicam shots sweep forward over the river, explore the island's terrain, and identify with characters during action. We're drawn in, watch and learn with Ellis as our surrogate. And as Ellis, Tye Sheridan has an enviable presence. He holds the camera eye, still, thoughtful, emotionally sympathetic. As Mud, Matthew McConaughey proves again that he embraces unusual, unflattering roles, sinking his teeth into the offbeat character. Other secondary characters played by Reese Witherspoon (largely undeveloped), Sam Shepard, and Michael Shannon lend solid support.
The sound nicely stays out of the way of the story and the locations contribute important mood and texture. Though its ending felt false in light of the rest of the film, "Mud" remains much more interesting than Hollywood blockbusters, more video games than complex stories. "Mud" has characters and heart and makes a powerful statement about love idealized, lost, fought for, and deserved. At a Landmark Theatre.