'Mud' Review: Matthew McConaughey's Hot Streak Continues with Southern Suspense Yarn

Matthew McConaughey’s mid-career resurgence is a glorious thing, and it continues with Mud.

Over the past decade, McConaughey has sometimes wasted his talent in dim rom-coms (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Fool’s Gold) or just coasted on his formidable abs (in films like Sahara and the deplorable vanity project Surfer, Dude). But in recent years he has taken on better material (The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe), and last year he lit up the screen, first as the manic strip-club owner in Magic Mike, and then, in a major left-turn, as the troubled reporter with a taste for rough trade in the incomparably sleazy The Paperboy. Now, extending his streak, there’s this.

Mud is the third film by writer-director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter), and it’s set in Nichols’ home state of Arkansas, in the Delta bayous along the Mississippi River. The director’s intimate familiarity with the people here--their rough houseboats tethered along the shore, their daily foraging for fish and oysters to sell in the inland towns--enables him to present us with a unique world that’s fully realized and rich in detail.

The story is a species of Southern Gothic with an undercurrent of Mark Twain (Nichols cites The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a model). We watch it unfold through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan, of The Tree of Life). Ellis and his friend Neckbone (able newcomer Jacob Lofland) have discovered an abandoned boat--a small cabin cruiser--on an island out in the middle of the river. It’s wedged into the upper limbs of a tree (this is a land of storms and floods), and they want to claim it for a secret fortress. But the boat turns out to be already occupied, by a scruffy stranger called Mud (McConaughey). Mud assures the boys he won’t be around long--he’s waiting for a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), his longtime love, and when she arrives they’ll cruise off down the river to the Gulf of Mexico, in search of a new life.

Read the full review at Reason.com


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