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It wasn’t long ago that Matthew McConaughey was just that laid-back dude with a cool accent who never wore a shirt. If we’re being honest, we’ll admit that, no matter what kind of role he played, it was hard to take the guy seriously. But, suddenly, something changed. He took interesting roles in interesting films—and he started raising eyebrows and turning heads. And now, another award season is here, and McConaughey’s name is once again being tossed around—for roles in moves like the upcoming Dallas Buyers Club and this summer’s Mud.

Mud may be named after McConaughey’s mysterious character, but the story is told through the eyes of a teenage boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan). While out exploring a deserted island near their riverfront homes, Ellis and his friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), meet a strange man who’s hiding out there. The man, who calls himself Mud, tells the boys that he’s waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon)—and he can’t leave the island until she arrives. He asks them for a little bit of food—and, trusting that Mud is a good man with a good heart, Ellis agrees to help.

Soon, Ellis discovers why Mud’s really in hiding: because he killed a man, and a team of bounty hunters is determined to make him pay. But, moved by Mud and Juniper’s love story, Ellis continues to help Mud find a way to safety.

Mud is a quietly mysterious drama, as gritty and laid-back as life on the river. The pacing is deliberate, and everything from the atmosphere to the score comes together to give the film a haunting and suspenseful feel.

McConaughey gives another stand-out performance as the mysterious fugitive. Mud is cool and smooth, with a slow, Southern drawl. And you’ll have no problem understanding why Ellis is so taken with him—no matter how risky it may be to try to help him out. Because he’s just that charming.

As the story plays out, though, you’ll begin to wonder whether or not Mud’s telling the truth. Is he really just a man in love? Is he crazy? Delusional? Or is he just plain dangerous? And it’s that mystery that makes the film so quietly captivating.

Still, McConaughey isn’t the only star here. Young Tye Sheridan holds his own as Ellis, the tough river kid who, deep down, is sweet and naive. Ellis’s world is falling apart around him, and he wants nothing more than to believe in true love. As he struggles with his parents’ possible separation and the problems with his own relationships, he sees Mud and Juniper as the romantic ideal: two grown-ups in love who need his help to get their happily-ever-after. He’s so hopeful that you can’t help but hope for the best, right along with him.

Not everything in this fascinating drama is at it seems—and the story goes in directions that you might not expect. So while Mud may not be an intense thriller or a slick, big-budget production, its mysterious characters and noteworthy cast make it worth the trip down the river.

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