The heaviness of MUDBOUND is something that one must brace themselves for. Not because it’s another film about race relations that always manages to catch the attention of Sundance, but because it is cinematic poetry. Director Dee Rees approaches the timely issue of racial divisiveness through two families — one white, one black — and the different life experiences they face while living in post-World War II rural Mississippi. Obviously, racism is an issue, but by now, the world should know that this period of time reeked of racism. Although a major bullet point in the story, Rees thoughtfully, yet firmly controls the divisive nature of the story and avoids the same rhetoric of predictable racist tropes often seen in films of this ilk to tell a story about the American Dream that is as devastating as it is hopeful.
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Hillary Jordan, the film follows the lives of the McAllen family and the Jacksons and how they are affected by WWII. When Henry McAllen (Jason Clarke) wants to uproot his family from their comfortable Memphis home to a cotton farm in the often mud-ridden Mississippi Delta, his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) apprehensively supports her husband — like any good wife from the ’40s should do. When they arrive at their new accommodations without indoor plumbing or electricity, she makes the best of the shack and makes it suitable for herself, Henry, their two little girls, and Henry’s super-racist Pappy (Jonathan Banks).
Hap (Rob Morgan), his wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) and their family come from generations that have been living on the land — but they eventually want to leave the area and have land of their own. The McAllens and the Jacksons have a cordial working relationship, which often seems one-sided because of the race thing and it being 1946 and all. Even so, there’s a certain shared respect between the two families, with the exception of Pappy, obviously.
When Henry’s charming and handsome brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) comes home from the war, he befriends Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who also served in the war. The bond over their time in the war and their friendship becomes an issue for both families.
Adapted from Jordan’s novel by Rees and Virgil Williams, the film constantly switches points-of-view with Malick-ian panache. As we hear these meditative voice-overs from Henry, Laura, Hap, Florence, Jamie, and Ronsel, it creates a poetic tapestry brilliantly woven by Rees. What could have been convoluted and clunky is instead a well-balanced storytelling device that is executed with meaningful intent from the director, writing, and the amazing ensemble cast.
With a film like this, the theme of race would most likely take front and center and although it is an important element, it doesn’t overwhelm the story. Instead, the movie focuses on hierarchy and class — and in a certain scope, the MacAllens and the Jackson are in the same boat. How they handle obstacles is where they differ. The theme of loyalty is explored via the unlikely friendship between Jamie and Ronsel. The forbidden bromance is a catalyst for a series of actions that make the film extremely difficult to watch.
Rees, who directed the award-winning drama Pariah, has created something extraordinarily special with Mudbound. The Southern-fried story is a slow boil of struggle that leads to a climactic moment of anguish. Although it isn’t exactly light viewing for a Sunday afternoon, the film leaves the audience a feeling of hope that proves the immense strength of the human spirit and that love does, in fact trump hate.
Rated: Not yet rated
Running time: 132 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer