For a movie with such an elemental title, “Mud” has a lot on its mind. It’s a coming-of-age film, a story of fathers and sons, and a regional drama set in a very specific slice of the American South. There are star-crossed lovers and a vengeful clan of killers, a first kiss and a boat stuck in a tree. And there’s Matthew McConaughey, who gratifyingly continues to explore a wayward mid-career path. After a run of dud Hollywood romantic comedies in the first decade of the new millennium, the star has lately jumped off the deep end with films like “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “Bernie,” and “Magic Mike,” finding roles that fit his laconic, down-home persona while straying eccentrically outside it.
In this one, he is Mud, a rangy, mysterious fugitive living on an island in the Mississippi River. Early in the film, Mud is discovered by two 14-year-old Arkansas boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who are scouting the island because they’ve heard a boat has lodged high in a tree during a recent flood. They find the boat and Mud living inside it. He’s on the run, from what isn’t initially clear.