Pick apart the various strands of this terrific character piece and one can spot elements of Stand by Me, Whistle Down the Wind, Great Expectations and The Go-Between.
Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a mysterious, charming stranger found living in a boat on a deserted island in Arkansas by pals Ellis and Neckbone who see in him a sense of adventure, daring and romance.
Soon they’re begging, borrowing and stealing to assist him in re-floating the boat.
His mission: to win back his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
Naturally there is more to Mud than just good intentions. But to Ellis, faced with moving off the river with his mother as his parents’ marriage frays, he represents an ideal of what love and devotion might be.
This is an unusual coming-of-age drama with a touch of Mark Twain in the Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer duo of Ellis and Neckbone.
In the hands of Jeff Nicholls, Mud becomes much more as the boys face a choice that will mark them forever.
There is a dazzling array of acting talent on display but said talent is rationed wisely. Thus grizzled river rat Sam Shepard and septuagenarian bad guy Joe Don Baker get their moments but we are made to wait for them.
This is a magnificent three-hander with the two boys (Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone) sharing equal prominence with McConaughey, who is mesmeric as the drifter and fugitive.
Mud has a timeless, mythic quality that makes it one of the finest films of the year.