Mudbound is a film that gets almost everything right. Netflix’s feature films have somewhat lacked audiences and quality. Dee Rees’s latest directorial effort, is an understated look into racial dynamics in the World War II south. Rees finds contemporary resonance within the construct of working class rural families. Mudbound is very much a film about the things that make humans relate to each other. In that rural settting, 1940’s Mississippi, Rees explores the similarites between poor blacks and poor whites. Mudbound overcomes some sluggish moments to become one of the better films of 2017
Supremely well acted by the talent cast, Mudbound is driven forward by the talents of many, and the strength of a few. Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) and Garrett Hedlund (Friday Night Lights) perhaps combine for some of the films better moments. Surrounded by racism, Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) is seemingly lost and feeling stuck upon returning home from World War II. The context is especially important in Mudbound. Though never explicitly stated, there’s a palpable feeling of dismay for Ronsel upon returning home. He put his life on the line, only to return and find himself trapped back in a racist community.
When Mudbound finds its stride, its when the film shifts focus to Hedlund and Mitchell. The PTSD they don’t know feeling, adds a hefty emotional impact to their nuanced performances. Hedlund’s character, Jamie McAllan is a portrait of the destruction of the human pysche. No doubt Jamie has found tragedy in his life fighting overseas. Even though they are far and few between, Jamie’s scenes in the films first arc are surprisingly important in the film going forward. Jamie has ambition, and he finds himself connecting with Ronsel on that level.
But, there’s always something holding them each back. It’s the duty to their family. Jamie’s brother Henry (Jason Clarke), is a rural working class man who perhaps has more in common with his ornery father Pappy (Johnathon Banks). Henry and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) live a constantly strained life in the deep south. Jamie is the voice of reason, recognizing the truth of the life they all live. Hedlund gives his career best work in this film. Engaging, convincing and committed, Hedlund truly develops to become the emotional center of the film. Mary J. Blige is also fantastic in the film as Ronsel’s mother. Rees makes great use of every actor involved in this film.
In all of the films tragedy, is a deep and sorrowful look into the realism of a human life. True to that theme, Mudbound shows the brutality of the Jim Crow south. It is by and large, but never excessively, a harrowingly dark movie. The themes of the film, often creep into infuriating territory, that is heartbreaking. Mitchell and Hedlund’s performances are that much more depressing by the films end. Rees’s point of view is grim, but ultimately, we get it why builds to the conclusion it does.
Mudbound is nearly impeccably crafted as well. Establishing an enveloping sense of time and place, everything about the film feels entirely authentic. Rachel Morrision’s cinematography is stunning. Capturing the essence of the rural south, Morrison is a big reason the film can boast that aforementioned authenticity. Rees’s direction is tight and focused, even when the pacing slugs early in the second act.
Netflix may have its first real shot at an awards season appearance. Mudbound is chalk full of moving performances and the gravitas of its bleak outlook. But in all of its bleakness is a glimmer of hope, and of redemption. The hope that we learn from an all to familiar subject. Though as people, we are not as prejudice as the era depicted here, the outlook here is a timely one. Mudbound is a film that sticks with you, and slowly builds into a throughly well done piece of filmmaking, and social commentary to boot. It’s one of 2017’s most resonant films.
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Runtime: 134 minutes
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Johnathon Banks
Directed by: Dee Rees