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mudIt seems worth noting that I enjoyed myself at this year’s South by Southwest film festival. As a recent transplant to Austin (shut up, you moved here too) it was my first SXSW experience and I have to say I think it went smoothly for the most part, and I didn’t really find myself disappointed about anything. Except despite multiple screenings of “Mud” it never quite jived with the rest of my schedule and I missed it completely. That was sort of a bummer, especially considering the buzz this film has been getting both before and since. I was patient, however, and waited thus until my chance arose. Now that I’ve seen it? The buzz was worthy.
“Mud” is taut mystery entwined in a fascinating coming of age story about two boys, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively) who are coming to grips with their changing world. Ellis and Neckbone are two normall 14 year old boys attempting to navigate that No Man’s Land between childhood and adolescence; both of these young men do their best to be mature while still succumbing to the childhood urge for exploration and foolishness. These urges are made even stronger given their lives on the banks of an Arkansan river. Their exploration leads them to the shores of an island in the Mississippi that is seemingly uninhabited. There they find a boat that got stuck in the tree during the last flood. Because boys will be boys, Ellis and Neckbone decide to claim the errant boat as their own and make it their own private treehouse.
These plans are put on hold by the discovery of a mysterious drifter who goes by the name Mud (Matthew McConaughey, in a stunning turn). The boys are naturally attracted by Mud’s mysterious ways and are compelled by his tales of true love and being an outlaw. Mud, it seems, has gotten himself into some trouble down in Texas; like all great stories, his trouble started with a girl. A one of a kind beauty named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) whom Mud has been in love with since he was just a boy. Juniper, it seems, got herself involved with an abusive man whom Mud killed in a duel over Juniper’s honor. Now, Mud is on the run from an imposing gang of bounty hunters hired by the murdered man’s family to find Mud and exact revenge.
Which brings Mud back to his Arkansas hometown where he intends to hide on the island until he can meet with Juniper and run away. The tree boat he claims as his, and offers to give it back to the boys when all this blows over, so long as they help him out when they can. Despite Neckbone’s misgivings about both Mud and his story, Ellis is compelled to help the man in his quest for true love.
The backwater backdrop for “Mud” provides ample metaphor for the adventure. Like the boys themselves, the river way of life is undergoing, well, currents of change that are absolutely unstoppable and in no way irreversible. Ellis is literally torn between two worlds as his mother threatens to divorce his father and move to town while his father refuses to leave the river that has provided for them for so long. He struggles to maintain the wonder and excitement of his youth while simultaneously navigating the horrible growing pains of youngmanhood. The experience is all paralleled by Mud and his attempts to run-off with his supposed one true love.
“Mud” is an amazing film that is well-deserving of all its South By buzz. McConaughey gives an absolutely daring performance as the title character and should settle the questions of his abilities as an actor once and for all. It might be a bit early for speculation, but I would be shocked if he didn’t at least receive an Oscar nomination for his role. If you didn’t get the chance to see it at SXSW, now’s your chance to right that wrong.

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