“You can call me Mud”, he says. What kind of name is that? The kind you might have in a remote corner of American south. One of the best qualities of Mud is that it’s a window into a different world. It shows a life we would never see otherwise, a life which could be extinct a generation later. In that life, a 13-year-old rides his own scooter, fixes boat engines, works with his father and gets paid for his work. There’s no school to speak of, possibly because it’s a summer, but two heroes can take better care of themselves than most graduates.
The main character is Ellis, an impressionable and reflective 13-year-old. You might assume such sensitive types aren’t cut out for rough country life, but he finds his way around and his curiosity allows him to discover things others would miss. One of the things he discovers is Mud, a murderer on the run who hides on a small river island and waits for his chance to escape.
Ellis has a friend called Neckbone, who tries to appear older and cooler than he actually is. Neckbone is levelheaded, he sees Mud (correctly) as a source of future problems and wants to leave the man alone. But he also looks up to Ellis and Ellis is determined to learn about their fugitive. Intuitively, he realizes Mud isn’t gonna hurt them. While Mud often makes life difficult for himself and those around, he is not a malicious person.
What Ellis gets involved in will give him a new look at love, trust and relationships. Parallel to the main storyline, we see how Ellis’ family disintegrates, how the boy himself attempts to date a girl three years older and how Mud handles one love of his whole life. While none of those relationships end well, they give the film surprisingly hopeful outlook. Ellis could’ve closed up and built a wall, but in the end he opens up even more.
It’s not often we see a good old-fashioned adventure worthy of Tom Sawyer. This is the kind of entertainment that made me fall in love with the cinema in first place. All the main actors here deserve notice, but I’m especially impressed with Matthew McConaughey. He’s been in several major Hollywood films recently, but only here and in Bernie we’re getting a good idea of what he can really do. It’s no surprise his next two projects are directed by Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan!