Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) treats 14-year-old Ellis and his friend Neckbone to a cornucopia of boyhood pleasures: walkie-talkies, taking an outboard up the river, a deserted island, a boat in a tree, old girlie mags, dirt bikes, chainsaws, fistfights, girlfriends, and looming over it all, a desperate outlaw in need of help. Matthew McConaughey is at his most Paul Newmany as the titular Mud, a lovesick killer who drawls out superstitious lore through teeth clenched round a cigarette. His plight is tragic, but the real story belongs to Ellis, a young man trying to believe in love despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Not just the romantic kind (though certainly that). The familial kind. The fraternal kind. Refreshing to see Southern folks portrayed as people, rather than trash or mystics. Go-to Southern gal Reese Witherspoon fizzles as the beloved, but the rest of the cast is perfect. (2012) — Matthew Lickona
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