By Bill Dudley

Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon are the big names in “Mud” which finally debuts in theaters this weekend, but the kids and the story are the stars.

“Mud” was written and directed by Arkansas native and relative newcomer Jeff Nichols.”Mud” takes place along the muddy Mississippi River in modern day Arkansas. The very unusual plot centers around two very poor teenage boys Ellis and Neckbone.  They are best friends, and “river rats.” Both come from very dysfunctional families, who make their living fishing along the river they call home. Ellis is a very sensitive kid looking for love and stability, in all the wrong places.He has great expectations, that may never be fulfilled. Neckbone is an orphan being raised by his very dis-connected uncle, played by Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire).

One day on a trip to a small island, the boys find what was once a very nice boat perched 45 feet high,in a tree. I’m assuming it probably got stranded there during a flood, as the film never explained the circumstance. They want the boat for their own, but find a very sleazy,hungry and wanted criminal is living in the boat. His name is”Mud,” played by Matthew McConaughey. He claims to have killed a man who ruined his relationship with his long time love Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon. Mud cons the willing helpers to get him some food, and try to re-unite him with Juniper who is waiting for him in town. Being hunted by a large group of bounty hunters is what prevents Mud from leaving the island.

Ellis immediately devotes all of his energy to helping “Mud.” Neckbone is a little more skeptical. Ellis is a very polite but angry kid, as his coming of age has been daunted by constantly fighting parents, and conceited girls that don’t know he is alive. His disappointments in finding some kind of security in his life are many.”Mud” is a very unique film. Although set in modern times, it is timeless, authentic and sincere. All the characters are well developed, and the film is paced perfectly. You really want “Mud” not to be a bad guy, as you don’t want Ellis to be let down yet again.

Director Jeff Nichols first wrote “Mud” back in 1999. He spent 13 years trying to get the film made in a “non-Hollywood” manner. His previous efforts were notable only to small audiences. You may have seen “Take Shelter.” You probably have NOT seen “Shotgun Stories,” a film that had virtually no musical soundtrack. “Mud” is much different. It has star power, an excellent supporting cast that also includes Sam Shepard, plus a well placed  classic  Beach Boys song, “Help Me Rhonda,” which is integral to the plot.

I hope “Mud” does well, as it is a powerful and thoughtful film, one of the best I’ve seen this year. Nichols is neither judgmental nor condescending in his portrayal of the working class poor of The Mississippi. It covers the good, the bad, and even the ugly aspects of all of their lives.

I’m predicting a big career for Tye Sheridan who plays Ellis. Tye was the youngest child in “The Tree Of Life.” Jacob Lofland (Neckbone), who gets to cuss a lot in “Mud,” is very reminiscent of River Phoenix in “Stand By Me.” I just hope these kids get some good roles in the future, as they both are deserving. I also predict Jeff Nichols will  become a well known and respected director, if “Mud” attracts the audience it richly deserves. “Mud” gets a big THUMBS UP from me. I think Roger Ebert would have loved it.

Watch the official trailer for “Mud” below:


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