For, June 7, 2013

This little drama, hanging in there at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City after playing for several weeks around the valley, is an engrossing character study set in the deep South as two young boys with too much free time head for a small island on the Mississippi River to check out a boat that is supposedly stuck up in a tree, a victim of the last flood.

Once they get there they find that it's true and claim the boat as their own. But as they check it out, they discover the boat is providing a living space for someone — a fugitive who calls himself Mud and who is planning an escape with his girlfriend, if he can contact her. If the boys will get a message to her without being detected, they can have the boat.

As the film progresses it becomes apparent that Mud is mixed up with some dangerous folks — but how dangerous is Mud, how guilty is he and are the boys in peril as they become complicit in helping Mud evade the law? And is Mud's girl as loyal to him as he is to her and does she want to run off with him? Who's playing whom in this scenario?

Part coming-of-age melodrama, part mystery, part thriller and nicely laced with comic relief, this little independent production is a pleasant surprise and definitely the kind of movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore.

The boys are at the center, with Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland exhibiting a rare natural screen presence for actors so young. And the presence of an A-list cast helps — Reese Witherspoon as Mud's white-trash girlfriend, veterans Sam Shephard and Joe Don Baker as shady characters on the periphery, and especially Matthew McConaughey as Mud, who continues to prove to naysayers what a fine actor he can be.