Mud, dir/wr. Jeff Nichols, st. Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland
The Twainish comparisons may ultimately be inevitable, but in this case they say more about Tom Sawyer's continuing ability to inspire filmmakers thanks to the enduring way in which it portrays adolescence breaking free, than a tired excuse to tie just another Boys Go Huntin' adventure to a weighty literary reference. Following on from the rather brilliant Take Shelter I raved about in 2011, Nichols' follow up film shares many of Shelter's themes concerning community isolation, fractured communications, and personal demon-slaying. Sheridan and Lofland play Ellis and Neckbone (a pair that could have easily been inducted into the Wheaton/Phoenix/O'Connell/Feldman clique without so much as a whisper of an initiation) who spend their days exploring all the wild and fecund Mississippi inlets and byways have to offer. On one such remote island, the pair discover an apocalyptic sight - an old boat moored high and dry above ground, stuck in a tree. To their surprise, someone has already claimed it as their own - a drifter who calls himself Mud (McConaughey) - and the boys are soon employed to run errands into town, deliver messages to Mud's belle Juniper (Witherspoon), and steal engine parts with a Fitzcarraldonian idea in mind to lower the marooned boat and provide Mud with liberating transport. It's a more ponderous piece than Take Shelter for sure, and Nichols' desire to show rather than to tell sometimes obstructs opportunities to take a deeper, more empathic view of the boys' relationship with the fugitive, but it's lovingly shot and edited, and its more meditative approach provides a calming respite from more overwrought offerings from the genre.