Firmly aimed at adults, ‘Mud’ may be year’s best film so far

With the coming of spring and summer, a young moviegoer’s thoughts turn to special-effects-driven blockbusters set amid fantasy worlds. So it’s refreshing to have a film come along at this time of year that is aimed at adults, takes place in the real world and evokes a sense of literary grace.

That “Mud” may end up being one of the best films of the year just makes its arrival that much sweeter.

“Mud” is directed by Jeff Nichols, who is Little Rock-born and Austin based and who received critical hosannas for his little-seen 2011 feature “Take Shelter.”

The movie has the feel of a novel — one perhaps written by Carson McCullers or Texas writer Paul Horgan — that’s rooted deep in American soil. Yet it was written specifically for the screen by Nichols himself. He has conjured up a coming-of-age story set in the South that doesn’t resort to using caricatures and cliches.

Matthew McConaughey, who continues to be on a roll with a string of strong performances in recent years, plays Mud, a man on the lam who takes refuge on a small island in the Mississippi River near a small Arkansas town.

He is discovered by two boys, Ellis (a terrific Tye Sheridan, “The Tree of Life”) and his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).

Instead of turning Mud in, they befriend him, keep his secret and get sucked into the details of his hard-knock life. That life includes a troubled girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) he’s supposed to meet up with and the men who want to see him dead.

But Mud isn’t just one man’s story. It’s also a portrait of a nowhere town and a way of life that’s on the verge of extinction. The ramshackle houseboats the boys’ families live in are under threat of demolition.

Aside from their fascination with Mud, Ellis and Neckbone are typical adolescents, trying to navigate the choppy waters of their awakening sexuality and — judging from Ellis’ experience with an older girl he has a crush on — not having much success.

Also, Ellis is dealing with a family under emotional assault as the marriage of his parents (Sam Shepard and Sarah Paulson) slowly unravels.

McConaughey brings depth to a character who at first seems merely brashly macho. And Witherspoon, playing against her “Legally Blonde” stereotype, is nearly unrecognizable as a woman who has made many bad decisions in her life.

Nichols has described “Mud” as Mark Twain meets Sam Peckinpah, and if the director’s affectionate portrait of a distinctively American way of life brings to mind the former, the inevitable showdown recalls the testosterone-fueled violence of the latter.

Though it should be noted, Nichols doesn’t go overboard with the bloodletting; he’s no Quentin Tarantino.

By the time the credits roll, you’ll feel as if you’ve just put down a good book.

Cherish the feeling. With all the summer superheroes waiting in the wings, it’s a buzz you may not experience for a few months.

“Mud” (4 stars)

A movie that may be one of the best of the year has the feel of a good book. It’s the story of Mud, played with depth by Matthew McConaghey, a man on the run, and of a way of life on the verge of extinction. With an unrecognizable Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, smoking.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Meridian, Oak Tree, Sundance.

More in Life

Julia Turner and her father, Ed, toast as they try out a flight of beer and cider at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. when it opened last year. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Now is the perfect time to design the garden of your dreams

Find inspiration in gardening magazines, on the internet, in your neighborhood and at nurseries.

‘Star Wars’ video game faces charges that it promotes gambling

By Gene Park / The Washington Post Imagine buying a new chess… Continue reading

Around Thanksgiving, gardeners give thanks for the garden

What are they most thankful for? The pleasure they receive from spending time in their yards.

Great Plant Pick: Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’

What: An exceptional selection of the eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis “Degroot’s Spire”… Continue reading

Teen idol David Cassidy remains in Florida hospital

The former pop star is dealing with multiple organ failure.

The pros’ snow: Lake Tahoe a big draw for skiers of all stripes

North Lake Tahoe is home to one of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in North America.

How birds stay alive in winter and what you can do to help

When the weather turns chilly, columnist Sharon Wootton’s thoughts turn to birds coping with cold.

Our annual list of holiday events in Snohomish County and beyond

LIGHTS The Lights of Christmas: Open 5 to 10 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec.… Continue reading

Most Read