We never learn his real name. “Just call me “Mud”, he tells the two 14-year-old young adventurers, Ellis and Neckbone. They have discovered an island, a boat in a tree, and a man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) on the wide Mississippi River. For them and those they love, there are some turbulent waters ahead..
One boy, Ellis ((Tye Sheridan) lives in a houseboat with his mom, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and dad, called “Senior” (Ray McKinnon). Though his home is on the water, Ellis’s faith in family and love is on solid ground. Together, he and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lafland) live a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn life on the Mississippi. Until they meet Mud.
But as Ellis sneaks away one night, he views his parents through a window, arguing. Parents and boy are separated, not only by the pane of glass, but by dark events forming to shape their future. The carefree boy on the cusp of manhood finds himself on the outside looking in at the only home he’s ever known. He overhears them. Mom wants a life away from the river. Dad makes his livelihood on it. Ellis has known no other life. “Don’t they love each other?” the boy wants to know. To him, love should be the cement that bonds people together, never to be broken.
Ellis and Neckbone are just at the age where they notice girls. Neckbone just wants to look at forbidden magazines. Ellis doesn’t mind that, but he is more of a dreamer and a romantic. He is just coming to the age where love and girls matter. On their river scavenging trips, they imitate men with their swearing, and swagger, and bravado.
When they find the scruffy island, they discover a boat in a tree, deposited there by some bygone flood. As they explore this boy-treasure and stake their claim to it, they find evidence that someone is living there. When Mud appears on the beach the boys immediately contend for the boat. Mud tells them he needs the boat to get off the island. He makes a deal for the gun he carries. If the boys help him by finding and transporting food and the parts he needs for the boat, he’ll make it an even trade..
Mud was once from around these parts, he said. Grew up on the Mississippi. Knew a man by the name of Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepherd). The boys knew about Tom, who lived across the river from Ellis, but had never met him personally. Mud called him an assassin. The boys soon learned that the highly superstitious Mud loved to elaborate. Some called it downright lying. Tom was a sniper back in Vietnam. But Mud does have a gorgeous girlfriend named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), whom he describes delectably to the salivating, hormonally active boys. But the one thing Ellis wants to know when Mud tries to recruit them as his romance messengers is, “Do you love her?”
Ellis wants desperately to believe in Mud, no matter how strange he is, or what he asks of them. Neckbone is a pragmatist, which probably comes from the fact that he already shows signs of a budding mechanic. He questions everything. But the boys stick by Mud, even after they learn he is a wanted man, not only by the law, but by bounty-hunters and revenge seekers.When Ellis assures Neckbone, “He’s not dangerous,” Neckbone replies, “Sounds like a shitload of State Troopers think different.” But Mud treats the boys as equals, talks to them on a man-level. That’s something the boys have not encountered before. Even Ellis’s father, called “Senior”, marks the difference between man and boy and how they are treated in day to day life..
Yet as the murky waters of human character and relationships begin to erode Ellis’s naive belief in how things should be, he finds himself torn between his boyhood dreams and a dangerous reality. But as he faces man-sized odds, he finds the kind of courage that older and bigger males would envy.
This is a movie I highly recommend. It is a coming-of-age story that walks tall. Matthew McConaughey looks and sounds like a man cut off from society by the love of a girl who can’t settle down. “She’s like a dream you don’t want to wake up from,” he says.The island, with its poisonous snakes and emptiness, is the perfect metaphor for where Mud has washed up. But it’s how his life as a man impacts the lives of two boys at a critical juncture, that makes for a movie you’ll want to watch more than once. You can’t beat the story, the dialogue, the edge-of-your-seat action, or the cinematography. Mud may not have won an Oscar, but it will be a classic when the Oscar-winning films have faded into cinema history.