Mudbound (2017) REVIEW

Photo credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix.

The sad reality of Mudbound is that the events that transpire in the 1940s are things that could easily happen today in rural America.

A person serving in the US military during a time of war should not be subjected to awful racism and name-calling after they return home. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens for Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). As he deals with the hatred from the likes of the racist Pappy McAallan (Jonathan Banks), he finds an ally in another returning service member, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund).

Directed by Dee Rees from Hillary Jordan’s novel, the film takes place in the Mississippi Delta where it follows the McAllans, a white family and the Jacksons, an African-American family. Both families see a member serving their country during wartime. Jamie has a harder time coming back into American society but its Ronsel who suffers the worst. He’s the one who has to bare the brunt of racist hatred despite his tour of duty. But in spite of all this, it’s the unlikely friendship between the two that drive the film.

While Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) may have some big dreams, the life of a farmer living on the Mississippi Delta isn’t exactly what he had in mind after moving his family from Memphis. As for his wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan) would likely rather be elsewhere. She’s education and forms a relationship with Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige), the wife of Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan), a sharecropper who lives on their land.

Blige delivers a sobering performance as she disappears into the role of Florence Jackson. Her performance isn’t a trope and it’s every bit as equal to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help (2011) or Taraji P. Henson, Spencer, and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures. To see what their family goes through is saddening to say the least but that’s the reality of the Jim Crow era. The performances, let alone the story, hits even stronger when one examines what’s happening in today’s era. There should be no place for racism in 2017.

Henry mostly takes a backseat in the action once Jamie returns from the war. Against Pappy’s wishes, Jamie befriends Ronsel and the two are frequently hanging out together. When Ronsel gets a letter from a young woman he met in Germany during the war, it’s Jamie who he turns to. When Ronsel gets beat up badly by the KKK, it’s Jamie who fights for him. This scene in particular is one of the most brutal scenes on screen since 12 Years a Slave. How Rees or any of the actors are able to get through that scene is beyond me.

The cinematography by Rachel Morrison helps to paint a light on life in the Deep South before the Civil Rights movement in a film that examines class, friendship, and the never-ending struggle against the land. It should be stressed before watching that viewers really need to be warned going in that the racism on screen gets really bad.

In terms of essential cinema, Mudbound joins the ranks of films such as 12 Years A Slave and The Help as far as racism is concerned. It’s just as shame that Netflix isn’t giving the film a wider theatrical release because contrary to popular opinion, not everyone has a Netflix account.

Netflix will stream Mudbound on November 17, 2017.  The film will also play in a handful of theaters.

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