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Mudbound Review

Mudbound is a 2017 drama about two men who return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

It’s almost disconcerting how good Dee Rees‘ latest Mudbound feels, how authentic its characters and sure of its place in time. This is a film that at the same time, is as fresh as anything you will likely this year see while richly bound to the past as it can be, a period film of enormous breadth and substance told with literary sprawl and epic detail, making it a deeply challenging and remarkable movie experience.

It’s a story of two families, one white and the other black, set in Mississippi during the years of World War II. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) is a farmer married to Laura (Carey Mulligan), who come to own a plot of land where Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) struggles as a tenant farmer, in fields his family has worked for generations, and as slaves before. He’s a proud man whose eldest son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) joins the fight in Europe in a tank while Henry’s younger brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) takes to the air. Back home, the two families are bound by the land, and one day, Henry’s children become sick and it is Hap’s wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) who comes to care for them, soon after asked to serve as the housekeeper, something Hap initially opposes until he suffers an accident. It leads Hap to give up his place and becoming a sharecropper, something he vowed never to be. Meanwhile, when the boys come home from war, each face different horrific challenges, as the families continue to find their place in this land shaped by mud.

While the film centers on Laura, she the soul of much of the film, this is far more an ensemble tale with Rees adapting the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, giving voice to each of the primary players, as they take turns narrating their part in the story, offering isolated commentary on their plights and pleasures. It’s surprisingly effective, the choice a good one as it works to give these already affecting characters personality beyond their actions. These small bits of narration aren’t expositional but insightful, many cutting deep. These are hard times, different times, and it’s often troubling to watch as the deep-seeded racism defines and divides them. Henry’s father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) serves as the main voice of this, and it is, as expected, disturbing to watch.

Mudbound tells the origins of change, where the practice of generations have left deep ruts in that mud, where Hap sees hope for his people in time to come but is still conditioned by his past to be submissive, believing the fight is useless in such small battles. Henry is a kind man but not untainted by the ruthlessness of his father’s hand and the patterns of white dominance he grew up in, treating Hap with good intentions but using words of position. Meanwhile, Ronsel and Jamie are linked by combat and come home ravaged by PTSD, with Ronsel changed further by the ceaseless bigotry, of which take up several powerful moments in the second half. Throughout all this is Vera (Lucy Faust), a young, desperately poor and slowly unraveling white mother whose cheating husband once worked for Henry, and is a reminder of just how precarious his own life is.

It’s a little hard to describe how genuinely touching Mudbound is, and not in the conventional sense. Rees is not interested in manipulation, never setting up and delivering hackneyed or contrived emotional payoffs, even as the story is ripe for them to pop up anytime. What happens instead are profoundly impactful scenes of humanity, images of life in these times where we glimpse what it takes to get to the next day. It’s a monumental achievement and while its length (2hrs 14m) and themes might not always connect with everyone, this is a film not to be missed. Mudbound is one of the best movies of the year.

Mudbound Review

Movie description: Mudbound is a 2017 drama about two men who return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Director(s): Dee Rees

Actor(s): Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke

Genre: Drama

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