As with all great stories the simpler the story the better it is. This is simple in the extreme but at 2 hours 10 minutes it's amazing how it weaves the threads together and keeps the tension and momentum moving towards an unpredictable conclusion. This is a coming of age story that pays homage to Mark Twain and echoes the landscape and feel of both Winter's Bone and Deliverance.
The narrative is carried by two 14 year boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone ( Jacob Lofland) growing up in the bayou's of Arkansas on the mighty Mississippi. Trying to make sense and meaning of the world around them, they explore the necessity of livelihood, the fickleness of love and imperfection of relationships whilst daring to believe Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and the story he painted. In Mud the boys saw someone they could believe in, someone who could offer them a glimpse of a transcendent way of life and reasoning.
This film maintains a high view of morality throughout. Honour, respect and honesty are the hallmarks of a good man. Neckbone who has been raised by his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) receives this advice from him "This river brings a lot of trash down, you gotta know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go" .As the boys stretch and fumble for a moral anchor points, so they sift what they hear and see for a truth they can comprehend. Men who mistreat women are not tolerated. The hormones that accompany the onset of puberty fuel both bravado and a growing interest in girls. Ellis is the more mature of the two and Neckbone constantly lives out his inquisitive fantasies through his friend's exploratory and tentative relationship with May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant).
There are many relationships in a variety of states of health in this film. Ellis' parents, Galen and his girlfriend, Ellis and May Pearl, Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) who turns in a performance that combines a surreal beauty with a fragile and alluring vulnerability.
This film is beautifully shot and the choice of locations depict both the isolation and the remoteness of the main location and also the small-town sense of community that the local town enjoys. The underlying culture and way of life depicted in the film will be unfamiliar to outsiders - at least it was to me - and at times it wasn't something I'd be queueing up to experience, but I would like to meet all of the characters. They were presented as believable, multi-dimensional people who were wrestling with the hardships of subsistence living and the complexity of family bonds and love in their relationships.
This really is a great film - outstanding. It is going to get the coveted 9/10. Go and see it while you can.