(Note: This is a reprint of our Mud review from Sundance 2013. The film opens in a limited run today.)

For his follow-up to Take Shelter, director Jeff Nichols smartly casts Matthew McConaughey as a violent drifter who slides into the lives of two young boys whose families eke out a bare existence on the Mississippi River. Using the gift for gab that any character played by McConaughey must automatically possess, this outlaw wraps the boys up in his plan to achieve true freedom.

While Take Shelter trafficked in heavy ambiguity, Mud does away with uncertainty, at least with respect to the story. This is a straightforward tale that rides on the shoulders of McConaughey and two excellent young actors, Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and newcomer Jacob Lofland.

Mud is a riff on Mark Twain, and an exploration of the relationships between generations of men. It could be a Tom Waits song, perhaps a long-lost cut from Swordfishtrombones, revolving as it does around a man with a dark past who seeks to build an escape engine out of cast-off parts, with love as his fuel. The film casts a keen eye on people living a mostly bygone lifestyle, and wraps those observations in a rollicking little adventure that you might find in the yellowing pages of an old pulp novel.

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Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols is prepping his third film, Mud, and he’s just added quite a few actors to the cast. Take Shelter star Michael Shannon is on board for a small role, and Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Joe Don Baker and Paul Sparks are all set to appear alongside leads Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Tye Sheridan in the film that started shooting yesterday in Arkansas.

And if you’re afraid this sounds like just another low-key indie, read on for the director’s description, as he likens the film to Peckinpah directing a story by Mark Twain.

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