After hearing that his obituary had been published in a New York newspaper, Mark Twain famously quipped, ”The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Of course, the author did eventually pass. But the coming-of-age, life-on-the-river spirit of his greatest novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, lives on in the Southern gothic thriller Mud. Directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), the film slowly unspools the story of two Arkansas teenagers: the sensitive, soft-spoken Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his loyal, smart-aleck pal Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). The two stumble across a grizzled fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out in an abandoned boat on a small island on the Mississippi River. Mud needs their help fixing the boat so he can flee with his bad-news girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). And Ellis, whose parents are splitting up, is won over by this stranger’s sense of romantic heroism. He needs something to believe in — why not love?
Unlike a lot of filmmakers who try to bottle the down-home details of the rural South, Nichols has a sense of place that feels authentic. He never condescends. There’s something old-fashioned about Mud, but if you allow yourself to settle into its leisurely pace, it will reward you. If he were alive today, Mark Twain would approve. B+