Publication: TheMovieWaffler, December 9th 2017
Based on the book by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells the story of the Jacksons, a poor black family who have lived and worked on a patch of farmland for generations, and the white family, the McAllans, that own it. The Second World War dispatches Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), leading to life-changing experiences a long way from a racist Deep South. Once back in Mississippi, Jamie and Ronsel must readjust to these backward social mores or risk the violent ire of the community.
As recently seen in another period piece on Netflix, Mindhunter, every scene is convincingly put together without bringing attention to any great expense. While the majority of Mudbound takes place in rural Mississippi, the film is also able to effortlessly flit between scenes of a war-torn Europe both from within a tank and 20,000 feet in the air.
Mudbound uses a narrative construct found in productions from Reindeer Games to Breaking Bad; teasing events to come by beginning with a scene near the finale before rewinding. In Mudbound it’s the burial of the McAllan’s father in heavy rainfall, James starting to panic as he is left in the pit with waters rising. It’s a strong scene, but one that would’ve been stronger if it played out in its natural place in the narrative.
An obvious reason for opening like this is that the first half to a film can feel slow, and Mudbound is no different. For the first hour the audience is introduced to the world and the injustices borne of outright discrimination and the power imbalance of poverty and privilege, yet the only initial narrative advance is Laura (Carey Mulligan) being whisked from her virginal life in her middle-class home to her new husband Henry’s (Jason Clarke) family farm.
Laura’s plight reminded me of Ada (Holly Hunter) in The Piano, not least as it is this musical instrument which allows Laura to keep her sanity in the desolate surrounds. Even as characters find themselves in a warzone, Mudbound‘s narrative upticks only slightly, and it is only with a brutal, scarring finale that anything occurs that will last long in the memory.
Mulligan gives a decent performance, able to show her character’s quiet pains and indignation. Perhaps the most memorable performance is Jonathan Banks as Pappy McAllan. This odious figure is an embodiment of the worst of not just a Jim Crow era but humanity, filled with cruel, petty hate for his family and the entire African American community.
If you’re not a fan of mumbling in movies Mudbound is not for you. Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) is difficult to understand, and Clarke is downright incomprehensible for large chunks of the film.
The most affecting (and articulate) relationship in the film is between Jamie and Ronsel as a sign of a new generation attempting to escape the ugliness of the past, though it is a shame Jamie had to get his life saved by Red Tails to realise racism is a bad thing.
Director Dee Rees dwells on many beautiful shots of a mud-soaked Mississippi. The issues presented carry both a historical authenticity and a modern relevance. It’s a shame the narrative isn’t more often involving, and make me wonder if Netflix haven’t acquired a prestige picture for the sake of it.
Mudbound is on Netflix now.