Two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), explore a nearby island and discover a small boat hanging precariously in a tree. The moment they declare this boat their new hideout, they stumble upon Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a drifter hiding out from the law. Jeff Nichols's Mud is a dirty little thriller.
Mud is hiding out in the woods until it is safe for him to reunite with his former girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) who is waiting for him in a nearby motel. The authorities are looking for Mud for killing a man who got involved with Juniper, but the family of the man Mud killed is also very close. The brother (Paul Sparks) is keeping a close eye on Juniper's hotel room, and keeps tabs on Ellis and Neckbone. The boys begin helping Mud hatch a plan to run away with Juniper, and they more they help him, the closer everyone else gets to catching him.
For those of you who came to Mud in hope that McConaughey will be shirtless his standard 78% of the movie, you will be sorely disappointed. I would say he's dons just pants for maybe 12%. You will, however, get to see McConaughey actually acting. He's been on a roll lately, hasn't he boys and girls? I attest that he should have earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination last year for Magic Mike. His tan, leathery performance was so energized and fun. Is this the start of a new acting era for him? McConaughey stars as a homophobic womanizer in in the upcoming Dallas Buyer's Club. Surely that performance will garner him some awards attention, but his work in Mud should not go unnoticed. His performance is quieter and more relaxed than anything else I have seen him in.
The discovery of love was what struck me most about the film. Ellis meets Mud the same day that he learns that his mother (Sarah Paulson) asks his father (Ray McKinnon) for a divorce. This shatters his fourteen year old world, but the idea that Mud does everything for Juniper comforts him. He respects the idea of love even though he is too young to truly experience it. Ellis also begins crushing on an older girl. They have a cute date together, and Ellis automatically assumes that she is his girlfriend.
Young Tye Sheridan helps make the whole movie work. He's a knockout young actor. Jaboc Lofland, as Neckbone, provides a lot of levity to the whole film, but Sheridan carries it. His discovery of Mud and his plans give him solace, and he thinks he can control how everything in his life will turn out at such a young age. Ellis is in for a hell of a ride.