Mud ★★★★

Mud is as much a swampy southern fable as it is a launch into adulthood. Following two young boys (Ellis and Nick/Neckbone) as they stumble upon a mysterious vagrant (named Mud), this is really the story of Ellis and his discovery of the true face of love in all its forms - what it means to love the place in which you live, your parents and family, and of course the fairer sex. But it's also about realizing that love isn't always worth pursuing.

The beautifully captured estuaries and woodlands of southern Arkansas make for a setting that is richly textured but also rather ephemeral. Throughout the film it's reinforced how fragile the lives of all of the characters have become. As with Beasts of The Southern Wild, we get a distinct feeling that life on the southern waters is a dwindling lifestyle.

Unlike the traditional coming-of-age arc where a young protagonist gradually becomes confident and self-assured, Ellis's arc is one that defies the archetype. He's already brave, bold, and confident. Not yet jaded by love or failed by misplaced loyalty, his journey is one that discovers the harsh truths about the world around him, but in a way that solidifies the beliefs he already has rather than inverting them.

The two young actors do a fantastic job of portraying naïve yet head-strong comrades, and Ellis and Neckbone as characters display a loyalty that is unbreakable. In a movie like this, there's two ways that story can go. But writer/director Jeff Nichols makes the better choice of not using their relationship as a device to wring drama from. McConaughey is fantastic in the titular role, as a man with a history that unearths over the course of the film but is never fully fleshed out, a fact that feels more like the correct choice of character inclusion rather than omission.

The narrative has its problems, accentuated when at times Nichols chooses to break our connection with Ellis by following the antagonists or digressing along other character arcs. The inclusion of a criminal elements as part of the plot only begins to get problematic in the final act where the slow boil becomes a fast-paced climax that, when wrapped, leaves a few important questions unanswered.

The movie ends poetically and on a fantastic note, and overall we're left with a feeling that the worlds of our characters are now very different places than when we began.