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video-mud-anatomy-articleLargeThis slow moving Mississippi river-set movie features infidelity, murder and theft, but at its heart it isn’t really about any of those things.

Not Really. Instead it’s a story about the things we do for love.

When two fourteen-year-old boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, who plays the excellently named Neckbone) discover a charismatic stranger named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living on a remote island they get drawn into a dubious scheme to reunite the loner with his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

Methodical and moody director Jeff “Take Shelter” Nichols takes his time telling “Mud’s” coming-of-age story. The film’s pacing echoes the sleepy lifestyle of its rural setting, which some viewers might find too slow—especially amid the crash-boom-bang of summer blockbuster season—but the moody approach allows the story to explore the gritty moodiness of the titular character and the confusion of a young boy who believes that love trumps all.

The performances of the leads—McConaughey and child actor Tye Sheridan—are stellar and quietly effective.

McConaughey does take his shirt off, but this time around it’s part of his unique backstory and not an excuse for Kate Hudson (who is nowhere to be seen here) to widen her eyes and giggle at his abs. It’s another compelling performance—following “Bernie,” “The paperboy” and “Killer Joe”—that continues his acting rehabilitation after years of romantic comedy purgatory.

Also effective in supporting roles are Sam Shepard as a sharp shooting river rat and Michael Shannon who plays it remarkably straight here after a series of edgy performances in films like “The Runaways” and “Premium Rush.”

“Mud” is a small film about epic subjects—true love, loyalty and the nature of friendship—that has a much clearer world view than its title might suggest.

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