Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon. (12A)


The filthy, starving, mysterious fugitive Mud (McConaughey) is hiding out from bounty hunters on a small Mississippi River islet in the Arkansas Delta when he is discovered by 14-year-old buddies Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland) on a forbidden river journey. Fascinated by the superstitious, determined and charismatic figure, the boys decide to help him survive, elude the manhunt and communicate with his white trash soulmate Juniper (Witherspoon), who is holed up in a cheap motel under surveillance while awaiting word from her on-the-lam lover. Meanwhile they have their own teen travails of hormonal stirrings and family drama to deal with in their poor community of houseboat dwellers whose way of life is under threat.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols’s confident, poetic slice of rural life has echoes of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Stand By Me, Whistle Down The Wind and other classic juvenile adventures but his naturalistic tone and observation of detail are refreshing and remarkable, as are the performances, not least from engaging young Tye Sheridan whose point of view and pubescent sensitivities are the heart of the film. McConaughey has never been better (or more ripped, in frequent absence-of-shirt situations) than as the intense focus for the boys’ notions of honour, loyalty and masculinity. Witherspoon has less screen time but lets her hair down as a red hot mess, while Paulson and Ray McKinnon as Ellis’s parents, Shepard as an enigmatic neighbour who has a past with Mud, and Shannon (star of Nichols’s previous film Take Shelter) as Neckbone’s oyster-diver uncle and guardian all add to a rich, warm, oddly romantic film with something for just about everyone.


Star Star Star Star


There’s more suspense and jeopardy than outright shocks, but a life-threatening snakebite, a thuggish assault on Juniper and an explosive home invasion shootout are cause for some nail chewing.


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