Teenagers Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland) explore the Mississippi river delta in search of a rumor: an abandoned boat marooned on a remote island. When they find the boat washed up in a tree, they also discover a man named Mud (McConaughey) who claims the boat as his home. Charming and more than a little mysterious, Mud regales the boys with stories of death and murder. It turns out his yarns are more than just stories — the boys eventually learn that Mud’s wanted by the police, and a band of brutal bounty hunters are also interested in locating him. Still, Ellis in particular likes his new friend; and so he tries to reunite the fugitive with his girlfriend, Juniper (Witherspoon).
Nichols’s third feature is a charming blend of Southern Gothic romance, mythic fable and coming of age story. The combination works thanks to lived-in performances from his juvenile players (with Sheridan a stand-out), and a tantalizing turn from Witherspoon. Yet the film belongs to the charismatic McConaughey, who jumps right off the screen in the title role. The gorgeous cinematography vividly evokes a sense of place; you can almost feel the buzzing heat of an Arkansas summer. Lyrical and deeply authentic, “Mud” is a smart, involving yarn you won’t soon forget — and just wait for that thrilling finish.