When two teenager boys in the Arkansas bayou discover a hermit named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in a boat stuck high in a tree after a recent flood it’s an encounter that will forever change all three of their lives. As a coming of age story, at its best Mud reminds you of Great Expectations or To Kill A Mockingbird as Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) get drawn into Mud’s world and learn hard lessons of life and love.
The themes of Mud keep recurring (perhaps a tad too neatly) as Mud’s troubled relationship with his ex Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is mirrored with Ellis’ own early experiences with love and the impending divorce of his parents (Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson) that threatens to destroy his home. Much of the plot deals with an old enemy (Joe Don Baker) of Mud out for revenge, but the real focus of the movie isn’t on the tension-building search for convict but on how Ellis and Mud’s experiences both change how they view the world and women.
On the subject of women Mud is misogynistic and extremely brutal. We get three main supporting characters in Juniper, Mary Lee (Paulsen), and Ellis’ girlfriend Mary Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) all of whom seem predestined to act selfishly. Mary Pearl is initially attracted to Ellis for his violent streak but breaks his heart to stay popular and because she can, Juniper continues to seek out dangerous sexual encounters despite her admitted love for Mud and what her dalliances have cost both of them in the past, and even Ellis’ mom chooses her own happiness over that of her son and husband who will loose their house and livelihood if she decides to move to the city.
The performances are all top notch and also include Sam Shepard in a small role as Ellis’ neighbor and an old friend of Mud and Paul Sparks as the leader of the group out to find Mud including in an intense scene where he physical attacks both Juniper and Ellis while seeking answers. McConaughey works well as the enigma whom Ellis trusts but doesn’t quite understand, and Juniper proves to be a nice change of pace for Witherspoon who thankfully takes a break from making another crappy romantic comedy to do some real acting.
At 130-minutes Mud has a few stretches that could certainly be tightened up with some better editing. It’s treatise on love and the inability to ever trust women is certainly a bit troubling. That said, Mud works on a number of levels but certainly best as a coming of age story as Mud’s arrival coincides with big changes in Ellis’ life and what he learns from that friendship can’t help but alter his view of his parents, women, love, and growing up.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray include commentary from writer/director Jeff Nichols, deleted scenes, an Ultraviolet copy of the film, and a handful of short behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of the film.
[Lionsgate, DVD $19.98 / Blu-ray $24.99]