I have been working on my 2017 Year in Review section recently and I had started organizing the Top 10 list of Netflix original movies. As I was adjusting the list, I thought to myself that I should watch Mudbound before completing the list.
Mudbound had some buzz about it, but I had not heard anything specific. I knew it had been on my queue for a few weeks and I had found excuses as to why I hadn’t watched it. I did not really know what this film was about, having heard very little.
So with the desire to make the Year in Review list as accurate as possible, I loaded up Netflix and turned on Mudbound.
This was a tremendous movie. Powerful and poignant. I am so glad that I did not just skip over it.
Mudbound tells the story of two families, one black, one white, in the 1940s in Mississippi. The McAllens came from Memphis into the Mississippi delta region to farm land that Henry (Jason Clarke) had purchased. He brought his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), his two girls and his racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) with him.
Meanwhile, already on the land was the Jacksons. Sharecroppers who had worked this land for generations, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) struggled to make a life for themselves and their family.
Each family had a member go off to fight in World War II. The McAllens had Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) flying B-52s and dropping bombs from above and the Jacksons had their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) who became a sergeant in the Army. Their returns to their families really ratcheted the drama up.
There are many themes here investigated by director Dee Rees. They look at not only the family dynamic within each family and the connection between different families, but also the racism of the time. This was Mississippi in the 40s and the climate for racial relations was not particularly liberal. Jamie McAllen seemed to be dealing with a case of PTSD as well from the scarring air battle that nearly cost him his life. Jamie dealt with those demons with alcohol and the world at the time saw him as a drunk instead of someone trying to deal with the memories.
Nothing was spared in the filming of Mudbound either. This felt like a grand epic that should have been seen on a big screen. I know this debuted at Sundance before being snatched up by Netflix, and I am sure that this played exceptionally well there. We get those small scenes on the farm, but we also get those larger air battles in the war.
The performances of this ensemble are exceptional across the board. There is not a weak performance anywhere. Garrett Hedlund is magnificent as Jamie, and he has a wonderful pleasant connection/chemistry with Jason Mitchell. This friendship is the main driving force of the second half of the film and it brings some of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
Carey Mulligan delivers an epic performance as well as the young wife who is dragged to this farm by her husband. You can tell she does not want to go, and that she does not want this type of life, but she was very supportive and did what she had to do. She had several quiet moments of emotions throughout the film and she is great.
Mary J. Blige is here as well. I did not know it was Mary J. Blige until I saw the credits after the film as she does a remarkable job turning into her character of Florence. Florence is such a strong woman who is willing to do whatever she can for her children and her husband Hap.
Jonathan Banks creates a character that you just hate, showing the ugly side of racism during the time, and yet, you understand where he is coming from. He is not a totally evil man, but he has a definite backyard process of thought. And the fate of his character is certainly satisfying.
There was a technique used with voice over where each character takes turns voicing thoughts about the circumstances. I found this to be a wonderful way to inform us on these characters and to help understand what they would be thinking in each moment. In a sense it is delivering exposition, but I found it to be a creative and original manner.
While the film has a slow pace, I never was bored as I found myself invested in all of these characters and the film bounced between them all in significant ways. Then, when Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund come back, the film picks up the speed dramatically.
I am so happy that I decided to watch this movie. It is a tremendous character study of two families and the pains and struggle of life during this period of time. The performances are award caliber and there are a few scenes that will leave an indeliable impact on you. Extremely powerful.