Movie review: McConaughey continues resurgence with Southern-fried drama “Mud”

By Columbus Alive
From the April 25, 2013 edition

That’s what I love about Matthew McConaughey, man. I get older. He stays the same age.

McConaughey’s recent resurgence from spotlight-fading heartthrob to buzzworthy actor has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the past couple of years. He had previously seemed content to take his shirt off in Kate Hudson rom-coms and collect paychecks.

But starting with 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” he’s had a hot streak going — from stealing the strip show in Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” to a grotesquely villainous turn in William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe.”

“Mud” unites the actor with writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) in a Southern coming-of-age tale that fits McConaughey’s recent trajectory to a tee.

Fourteen-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on a houseboat in coastal Arkansas with his parents. When he and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) travel to a nearby island to explore a boat stranded in a tree by a flood, they find signs someone is living there.

That someone is Mud (McConaughey), a mysterious drifter who makes a deal with the boys to bring him food in exchange for rights to the boat.

Mud develops a trust with the boys, who slowly learn the details of what brought him to hide out in the boat. Unsurprisingly, it involves a beautiful woman (Reese Witherspoon).

The Arkansas-born Nichols lays out his Deep South backdrop with such authenticity you can almost feel the bugs swarming on a hot summer night. It fits McConaughey’s warm drawl — and emerging dark side — like a glove.

His natural likability and undercurrent of menace are the sweet and sour that make for a fine cocktail. The actor’s hot streak continues.

Young Sheridan’s Ellis, however, is the focal point of the film, a boy dealing with the disintegration of his parents’ relationship who finds a friend in an unlikely drifter.

Nichols layers Ellis’ story a little too thick at times, and “Mud” isn’t as transcendent as the menacing apocalyptic “Take Shelter” — although “Shelter” star Michael Shannon is welcome in a supporting role.

Despite some minor quibbles, “Mud” is another great chance to watch forever-young McConaughey show that he’s still growing up as an actor.