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(2013) (Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan) (PG-13)

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Drama: Two young boys help a mysterious man on the run from bounty hunters in the Deep South.
In the Deep South, Ellis (TYE SHERIDAN) and Neckbone (JACOB LOFLAND) are two teenage boys who have all sorts of misadventures on the Mississippi River in Neckbone's small motorboat. One day, they come upon a small island on the river and decide to explore. They happen across Mud (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY), a drifter who carries a pistol, smokes cigarettes, and says he is waiting for a beautiful girl named Juniper (REESE WITHERSPOON) who has agreed to run away with him.

The boys soon learn that Mud is on the run from the law for killing a man who had impregnated Juniper, beat her up, and caused her to have a miscarriage. The dead man's wealthy father, King (JOE DON BAKER), and intimidating brother, Carver (PAUL SPARKS), have come to town with a pack of bounty hunters looking to get revenge. Ellis also discovers that Mud has a strange connection with his neighbor, Tom Blankenship (SAM SHEPARD), a former Marine sharpshooter who now likes to keep to himself.

Ellis is a romantic and vows to do all he can to reunite Mud and Juniper and get them to safety. He convinces Neckbone to help him steal boat parts, bring Mud food, and pass notes between Mud and Juniper who is holed up in a motel in town. At the same time, Ellis has to deal with the increased friction between his father, Senior (RAY McKINNON), and mother, Mary Lee (SARAH PAULSON); a crush he has on a local older girl named May Pearl (BONNIE STURDIVANT); and the potentially dangerous curiosity of Neckbone's Uncle Galen (MICHAEL SHANNON).

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
I recently got XM satellite radio for the first time. And I have to say ... I'm lovin' it! I had become really bored with regular, terrestrial radio. Just as I love all types of movies from period pieces to action films, romantic comedies to horror movies, my music tastes are quite varied. Depending on my mood, I could listen to heavy metal, groove to some jazz, or turn up some rap (especially old-school from my youth like Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, Eric B and Rakim, etc.) I love music from the 1960s, everything from classic Motown to the Beach Boys. I even like some of today's hit makers, especially Fun. And, of course, I am totally digging the '80s on Channel 8.

But my favorite channel so far is Willie's Roadhouse. It's a station programmed by Willie Nelson and it mostly features real old country tunes that usually tell stories. And those stories often revolve around down-and-out cowpokes who have done some bad, bad things because of a woman. I'm talking songs like "El Paso" in which Marty Robbins sings about falling in love with a girl named Felina, shooting a stranger who was hitting on her, then not being able to stay away from El Paso and the cantina this all went down in. Or, there's Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues," in which the Man in Black croons about a man who got hopped up on nose candy, shot his cheating woman down, and was then arrested in Mexico and hauled back before a judge. Or, there's Kenny Rogers' "Coward of the County," about the son of a disgraced prison convict who's torn between keeping a promise he made to his father to walk away from trouble and going after a group of local toughs who assaulted his girlfriend.

The list goes on. The new movie "Mud" is like an old Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, and Kenny Rogers story song brought to life. It features Matthew McConaughey as Mud, a good-looking drifter who is hiding out on a small island on the Mississippi River after he shot and killed a man for impregnating his former girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and then beating her up. One day, two teenage boys named Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) motor-boat over to the island to check out a boat stuck in the trees. They find Mud and are instantly curious.

Ellis, in particular, forms a bond. He senses a kindred spirit in Mud, a romantic willing to fight for the woman he loves. Ellis has a crush on a local older girl in town and is dealing with his mom and dad on the verge of separating. So, his mind is spinning with the newfangled ideas and notions and emotions of love, loyalty, betrayal, and fate. He vows to help reunite Mud with Juniper and see them to safety - a task that becomes even more tricky when bounty hunters show up in town looking to kill Mud.

It's all very Johnny Cash, very Waylon Jennings, very Merle Haggard. Juniper is a vision when Ellis finally spots her in town. She spends her days as all women do in such tales, gravitating between the local motel, the nearby Piggly Wiggly, and the bar up on the highway. Will she wait for Mud? Will she stray again? Or will the bounty hunters hired by the dead man's rich and crooked daddy show up and hurt her or kill her just to draw Mud out?

The film is layered not like your typical Hollywood thriller, but indeed like a song. A classic ballad. It's as much about mood and character and motivation as it is about "who's gonna git shot." There is indeed a great shootout at the end. I'm not spoiling anything here. You don't flash this many firearms throughout a pic and expect them not to be used. That's not Johnny Cash talkin'. That's Billy Shakespeare!

The film is exceptionally well cast, especially the two young leads who take their modern-day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn parts and turn them into quietly heroic, wonderfully idiosyncratic personalities. They both have what Ang Lee once called in an interview "great movie faces." You sometimes don't need great dialogue if you can get great movie faces. A lot of times in the film, the emotions are conveyed more by a close-up or a look between two people. You really get the sense in this film that Ellis and Neckbone, as well as Ellis' parents and Neckbone's uncle have been living in these parts and traveling these highways, byways, and riverways all their lives.

And McConaughey just owns the part of Mud. It's a great performance! You spend a good part of the picture wondering if the guy is telling the boys the truth or if he's full of it. He likes to spin tales and has a sense of poetry to his storytelling. He clearly exaggerates in some instances, and he doesn't think twice about putting Ellis and Neckbone in harm's way for his own purposes. So, you can never quite trust him. But there's nobility to the man, too, and he knows how to charm.

I have few nitpicks with this film. It's a wise, entertaining little picture. What are its main lessons? There ain't no good in an evil-hearted woman? Don't take your guns to town? Sometimes you gotta fight if you're a man? Hee hee. The biggest lesson I learned is that it's totally worth it to pay good money to see a good, little film nestled between theaters showing "Iron Man 3" and "The Great Gatsby." I give this flick a big 8 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed May 12, 2013 / Posted May 14, 2013

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