McConaughey plays the titular character Mud, a wandering vagabond, who is found hiding out an abandoned boat, on an island in the Arkansas River by two 14 year old boys: Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neck (Jacob Lofland). Ellis and Neck are from De Witt, Arkansas, and spend their free time cruising the river in their rickety little riverboat. Mud has only two possessions: a pistol, and a lucky yellow shirt with a wolf’s eye sown on the sleeves. Mud tells the boys that he will give them his pistol if they help him repair the abandoned boat on the island, so he can escape to the Gulf of Mexico. Ellis and Neck are enchanted by Mud’s mysterious nature and immediately agree to help him.
Mud can almost be described as a collection of little vignettes, told by Mud. He and the boys bond as Mud tells them stories of past adventures, past loves and future hopes. McConaughey is at his best in this movie, using his rustic Southern accent to tell the boys stories of his childhood adventures in De Witt. McConaughey is a convincing mentor to the boys, as he tries to guide them through the perils of adolescence. Tye Sheridan does an excellent job playing Ellis, a young boy dealing with his parents’ impending divorce and his growing romantic feelings for a fellow classmate, while his friend Neck is an orphan who lives with his uncle. Mud, an orphan with no remaining family, becomes a surrogate brother to Ellis and Neck as they work together to repair the boat, and they bond over their similar struggles.
Mud is a magical film in that it doesn’t really fit well into a single genre. There are elements of action or adventure movies, a romantic subplot, coated with harsh realism. Mud can best be described as a remake of Stand By Me for the modern era, as both movies follow the adventures of young boys as they learn about life and mature. What makes Mud truly unique is McConaughey’s performance as Mud, an adult who plays an active role in the boys’ lives. This movie is perfect for viewers who want to watch a special coming of age adventure in the Deep South.