Has anyone ever been so perfectly cast as Matthew McConaugheyin Dazed and Confused? Sculpted entirely of charisma and cheekbones yet still seedier than a stash of gym-locker pot, McConaughey’s radiant stoner exemplified high school promise gone bad. He looked like the little man of top of trophies, just horny, stupid, sapped of ambition and only likely to use his physical gifts for the least public-spirited of ends. Mud, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is the latest in McConaughey’s campaign for re-consideration as a great American actor. He plays full burnout, a starving fugitive hiding out on a small island in the Mississippi. When discovered by a pair of likable local kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), McConaughey lays out the backstory you might wish was more original. There’s a woman he’s waiting for, a crime of chivalrous passion, the usual thugs out to get him. Will the kids keep his secret—and even help him get where he’s going? The mode here is boys’ adventure, Twain and Great Expectations mixed up with rural naturalism. The boys talk about “titties” and wear camo pants; early on we see them pilot a small boat down the tributary they live on and into the great Mississippi itself, a rousing sequence that suggests the danger and wildness of the adulthood they’re surging toward. At moments like this, Mud is honest and involving, touched with life as it’s actually lived. Too bad it settles into melodrama. The climax feels copy-pasted from episodes of Justified, the action comically out of proportion to the small story preceding it.
Jeff NicholsMatthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael ShannonJeff NicholsSarah Green, Aaron RyderLionsgate/Roadside Attractions