The Mississippi River is central to many American legends, like the Rhine in the mythology of Richard Wagner. Mud, the most recent feature by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter), nestles comfortably in that legendary locale, a latter-day adventure of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan, last seen in Terence Malick's The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lofland), set off on the river in search of a boat that was left marooned in a tree by a recent flood. A boat represents freedom in the world the boys inhabit along the river, a culture of dilapidated house boats, subsistence by fishing and oystering, and life at the edge of legality, which is vanishing before their eyes. Nichols, who is from Arkansas and has trained his camera on his home state, joins directors like Alexander Payne and Debra Granik, who are documenting the fascinating inner life of the flyover states.
Mud (directed by Jeff Nichols)
New York Times | Washington Post | Los Angeles Times | NPR
The New Republic | New York Magazine | Wall Street Journal
The supporting cast rounds out a yarn-like story that chugs along in a captivating, slow-paced (very Southern) way, with Reese Witherspoon as Mud's trashy idol girlfriend, Sam Shepard as a river loner who becomes known to the boys only through their attempts to help Mud, Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulsen as Ellis's struggling parents, and Michael Shannon (the lead in both of Nichols's previous features, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter) as the uncle who "raises" Neckbone after his parents abandoned him. Possible nomination nods could conceivably include Best Actor for McConaughey and Best Original Screenplay for Nichols: the latter, if perhaps too tightly sewn up at the end (no spoilers here), is almost note-perfect in tone.