Mudbound is a period drama film directed by Dee Rees and written by Rees, based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan. It stars Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, and Jonathan Banks. It was released on Netflix and also in a limited release.
The Story/The Direction:
The film follows two World War II veterans, one of which is white and the other is black. After they return to rural Mississippi, they both deal with PTSD and racism. Jamie (Hedlund) is the dashing, ladies’ man that comes back as an alcoholic as a man who cannot leave the war behind him. Rosnel is treated like a hero in Germany and comes back to a country who does not let him walk through the front door of a grocery store.
Rees is able to tell a painful yet important story of race, identity, and struggle. She is able to put the audience right in the middle of the rural region of the American South in the 1940s. This is a time period where slavery is technically gone but the negative attitudes towards blacks still exist. Black men and women are meant to be free and can do what they please such as enlisting to defend the country. They go across the Atlantic Ocean and risk their lives for bigots that are willing to mutilate them when they return. This story and film shows that there is not that much difference between post-World War II Mississippi and post-Civil War Mississippi. The way Rees is able to place the audience in this environment makes them feel the pain that her characters are going through. She uses dark colors and widescreen views of fields and houses that look ready to fall down. Rees is able to give her actors a terrible environment for these rich characters to be in, either on familiar or foreign lands.
Farm life is not great no matter the color of the people’s skin as war is not the best place to be. Both situations show two different experiences but their goals are the same. Both farming families only want to succeed in life and both soldiers just want to defend their country. It is a great comment on current society that we as humans all have similar goals and are not that different from each other. After the war, Jamie comes to live with his brother, Henry (Clarke), and his wife Laura (Mulligan), who wants to make something of himself but can’t find the way to do it. He builds a relationship with a black family lead by Ronsel’s parents, Hap (Morgan) and Florence (Blige), and they help each other as needed. Blige and Morgan are able to play their protective parental roles with such great prowess. Blige is able to completely separates herself from the R&B singer that she is known for. She wants Ronsel to leave even if it makes it worse for herself and Hap. She wants a better life for her son. She is paralleled with Mulligan’s Laura. Laura marries Harry not because her desire of him of which there is none. She does it to please others. Living with Henry and Laura is their clearly racist father, Pappy (Banks). Even though his son and Ronsel served in the same war together, they are still different in his eyes. This leads to some very heart wrenching scenes. The cast is overall fantastic but the standout is the versatile Mitchell as Ronsel and he is able to play this tragic character that found equality while fighting for his country but is denied it when he returns home. His relationship with Jamie is the heart of this film.
As the true draw of the film is the Rosnel and Jamie relationship, the others are not as strong. Farm life is hard and can be very difficult to be compelling. The day to day tribulations of these two families can be difficult to find as engaging as Ronsel and Jamie’s times in Europe. However, this was probably done to continually show the differences between the two places in the world. Since the film tries to concentrate on their issues with their return, it seems somewhat lacking as their hardships are only shown in the final third of the film.
During this period of American history, there was very little hope for those coming home from war. Black people came back to a country that looked down of them and the white people came back with PTSD. They survived guns, bombs, and tanks to come home only to try to survive again in the “real” world. It is a film about fighters against Hitler, racists, or just trying to provide food for their family. Rees is not subtle with these struggles and this film carries cinematic weight that anyone can relate to. She potentially could get a Best Director for this film and possibly a Best Picture. It has great characters led by Mitchell and Blige, both of which should get supporting nominations for their performances as not one person “stars” in this film. Blige also provides a fantastic song “Mighty River,” that could gain some pull for Best Original Song. This amazing film is worth checking out on Netflix and if it ever comes to Blu-ray, it is worth buying as it is one of the best films all year.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
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