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There are times when everything in life seems just as clear as... mud. That’s doubly true if you happen to spend lots of time scrounging the Mississippi River, which is exactly what the characters in the latest from Jeff Nichols  (director of 2011’s shamefully overlooked Take Shelter ) do to get by. Centering on Ellis and Neckbone, two early-teens swamp rats who befriend a fugitive hiding out near their fishing spot, Mud mixes love, deception, and crime into a gumbo as tangled and slippery as a nest of water moccasins. The result is a distinctly Southern contemporary folktale—think Tom Sawyer with dirtbikes—plus the heart and attention to character you'd find in the better indie pictures. Let’s hope scoring big names on Mud (Matthew McConaughey , Reese Witherspoon , Sam Shepard ) means Nichols has gotten Hollywood’s attention, and is on his way to securing a spot among the top directors of this decade.