Mud ~ A Capsule Movie Review By Allen Kopp
Mud is a contemporary story set almost entirely on an unnamed Arkansas river. Fourteen-year-old Ellis lives with his parents on a sort of houseboat and they make their living from the river. His parents are decent people but they seem unhappy. His mother wants to separate from his father and move into town. Their way of life on the river is coming to an end.
One day when Ellis and his friend Neckbone take their boat to an apparently uninhabited island on the river, they discover a boat, intact, about twenty feet off the ground lodged in a tree. It came to be there from a recent flood. When they climb up into the boat, they find signs that someone has been living in it. Soon after, they meet a man who is known only as Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He is dirty and hungry but friendly. Ellis is drawn to him and wants to help him but Neckbone is more skeptical. Mud makes a deal with Ellis and Neckbone whereby they will help him get the boat out of the tree in exchange for his .45 caliber pistol. He plans to use the boat to escape up the river, but first he is waiting for someone to come to him, a girl named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), with whom he has been in love since he was a child.
Mud has to hide out on the island because he has killed a man who had wronged Juniper. The man’s brother and father are after Mud, intent on killing him. They are terrorizing Juniper because they believe she knows where Mud is and can lead them to him. If Mud can get the boat out of the tree and get it in running order, he and Juniper can run away together, he believes.
When Ellis and Neckbone see Juniper, they see why Mud loves her. Ellis begins taking letters to Juniper from Mud and generally helping Mud in any way he can in his plan to escape. They devise a plan whereby they will take Juniper to Mud, but she doesn’t show up at the appointed time. This is when Ellis begins to see things as they really are. Juniper is just a floozy who will take up with any man. She says she loves Mud but Ellis begins to doubt it. The perfect love that he thought held Mud and Juniper together doesn’t exist at all. He begins to see that Mud has only used him and Neckbone. This disappointment parallels the disintegration of his own family and their way of life on the river. Even his own romance with a slightly older girl named May Pearl ends in disappointment.
Mud is a story about the South that might have been written by William Faulkner or Erskine Caldwell. It’s a coming-of-age story but also a story about friendship, family, and lost love. There are no special effects, no computer-generated razzle-dazzle. Just believable characters and solid storytelling.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp