Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14-year-old boys living along the Mississippi river in rural Arkansas. Ellis discovers a boat stuck up in a tree on a small, deserted island, most likely as a result of the last flood. Delighted by the possibilities for a potential clubhouse, they are shocked to discover a fugitive is already living in the boat. The fugitive is a man who calls himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is hiding from the law for a murder he committed to avenge Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the woman he loves.
The boys agree to keep Mud's presence a secret and begin to bring him food and other supplies. Meanwhile, Ellis' parents are beginning to divorce, causing much confusion and frustration for the boy who is just beginning to discover his own romantic attraction to a high-school girl, May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant).
Ellis wants to trust women and to trust in true love, but his parents and May Pearl are sending mixed messages that are too convoluted for his young mind to decipher. Mud professes true love for Juniper, causing Ellis to believe the couple belongs together and are worth fighting for. As a result, Ellis steals a boat motor to help Mud and Juniper escape up the Mississippi river.
What Ellis doesn’t understand is the complexity of relationships, and as much as Juniper says she loves Mud, her self-destructive streak takes over, further confusing the idealistic boy.
What's lovely about this film is seeing complicated men and women through the naïve eyes of a 14-year-old boy. Ellis is trusting, exposed and raw. When he learns he's been used as a pawn in Mud and Juniper's complicated relationship, it's more than he can handle, and my heart broke for him. It is Ellis' first adult experience and it's not pretty.
Ty Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey as Ellis and Mud make a stellar team, both taking big emotional risks that pay off. Both performances are tinged with reality and hope, despite the dark circumstances.
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