A contemporary Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn find a new man-on-the-run in this belles-lettres thriller, the sophomore effort from writer/director Jeff Nichols. As in TAKE SHELTER/’11, the screenplay smells of college desk-drawers & short-story competitions, but he’s dropped the supernatural for this coming-of-age tale. In its place, Matthew McConaughey hides out on some deep-south islet, trying to lower an abandoned boat down from a tree (!) with the help of a couple of independent middle-school boys already coping with serious parental issues. Nichols is just loaded with filmmaking talents (great perfs, a daringly measured riverside pace, naturally dramatic use of spatial relationships), but he weighs himself down with symbols, surrogates & foreshadowing, as if producing Cliff Notes to go with his own story. When the climaxes show up, we’re so over-primed for snake bites, military sharp-shooters & home demolition, nothing makes an effect. Maybe he hoped to camouflage all the elements lifted straight out of SHANE/’53.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: After this and THE TREE OF LIFE/'11, young Tye Sheridan is in danger of becoming the go-to boy for tough sensitivity. But his scruffy pal, Jacob Lofland, displaying a dose of young River Phoenix in the Huck Finn part, leaves us with a bit of character mystery.
DOUBLE-BILL: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s astounding THE RETURN/’03 is a Russian film that takes no prisoners as it goes on the road with two boys and their non-surrogate father.