Jeff Nichols' third film is an American tale in the classic mould, a deliberately Mark Twain-esque story about innocence and violence, about growing up, love and friendship.

14 year olds Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two friends who have discovered an old boat up a tree on an island down the river, they think it'd make a great little hideout, but they're not the first to have thought so.

They find Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a mysterious drifter, who is in town for a purpose; the woman he loves - Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) - has got mixed up with some lowlifes and he hopes to set her free, but he'll need the boys to help.

It's a rather typical set-up, the romanticism of youth giving Mud the benefit of the doubt, where more cynical adults might immediately distrust him, and, thus, turn him into the authorities.  It also, as is to be expected, creates a contrast between this new father-figure in Ellis' life and his real father (Ray McKinnon), who is going through a strained breakdown of his relationship with Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson).

Furthermore, there are a handful of other father-son relationships, alongside the contrasting romantic relationships of Mud and Juniper, Ellis' mother and father, and Ellis and an older, high school senior who he likes.

Whilst the film has a deliberate, pleasant, slow pace and nothing but decent performances, there's something missing at the core of the film, a deeper meaning perhaps.  Meanwhile, some of the attitudes that the film seems to support appear to be oddly regressive, which on the one hand does reflect the American folklore the film seems to be riffing off of, but doesn't bring anything new and contemporary to the mix, aside from a shoot-out.

All told, this is a well made picture, but pales in comparison to similar fare such as Stand By Me or Night Of The Hunter.