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

Rated PG-13 | 2 hours, 10 minutes
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Spot-on review of a great film, especially the comparison to Paul Newman. There's definitely a lot more to be said; for example, having boys that talk and act like boys rather than like young actors following scripts (I'm thinking of Super 8 and its ilk here). Also, the filmmaking is warm and gorgeous, with its Arkansas houseboats and islands and firelight that contrast with its antiseptic hotels and apartment buildings. It's all measured in just the right proportions, and there's not a false note in the whole thing if you can excuse the normally restrained Ellis's ease with throwing face punches at men twice his size. Kudos to our reviewer Matthew Lickona for never using the phrase "coming of age" because the film's not about all that. What we have instead is aptly described by the director himself: like Sam Peckinpah directing a short story by Mark Twain.

Sept. 7, 2013

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