(M) Roadshow DVD/BD

Fourteen-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives with his parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) in a decrepit houseboat; he’s glad he’s not a “townie” like many of his peers. His parents are heading toward a divorce which weighs heavily on this sensitive teenager. His best friend is Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who is being raised by his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), an oyster diver. The two boys expend their excess youthful energy with regular trips to a Mississippi island where they have claimed a boat stuck in a tree due to some serious flooding. Ellis and Neckbone savor their time away from adult restrictions.

One day they find evidence that a stranger is living in their improvised tree-house. Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is hiding out on the island waiting for the chance to hook up again with the “love of his life,” Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Ellis sympathizes with Mud’s desperate situation and agrees to supply him with canned beans and other edibles. He trusts this stranger even though Mud later admits that he killed a man who was beating up Juniper. Now the revenge-seeking father of the murdered man, his other violent son, some other unsavory lowlifes, and the police are all searching for this wily redneck.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols has made a fresh coming-of-age tale. Ellis goes through many tests and trials once he reaches out with love and generosity to this troubled fugitive. He gets in trouble with his parents for stealing a motor for the boat so that Mud can escape with Juniper. The boy even gets a black eye trying to protect Juniper from the murdered man’s brother.

Ellis’s heroics are signs of his sturdy character and his good heart. Tye Sheridan, who appeared in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, has the same compelling screen presence as River Phoenix had in Stand by Me, another very fine coming-of-age film. McConaughey is credible as Mud, the romantic dreamer, and Sam Shepherd puts in a notable performance as a tough old man who provides needed support for the fugitive when he needs it most.

Adrian Drayton


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