by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Two American families in Mississippi collide in a tale told in black and white in Mudbound.
Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan) is trying to make the best of a bad situation as her husband Henry (Jason Clarke) drags her and the family, including Henry’s father Pappy (Johnathan Banks) to Mississippi to tend the family farm. Things go from bad to worse when the home that Henry promised her was swindled out from under them and Henry’s cantankerous and abrasive father Pappy rubs it in. The only person who treats Laura well is her brother in law, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) who soon after their arrival gets shipped off to fight in the war.
Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) are sharecroppers who work on land owned by the McAllans. Hap is also a minister at the local church and dreams of the day when they make enough money to get their own land and their own home instead of the squalid shack in which his family is living. Trouble comes for the Jacksons when they lose a worker because their son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) is shipped off to fight in the war. The troubles increase when Hap breaks his leg and the mule has to be put down. The loss of the mule puts Hap and his family more in debt to the McAllans. All hope seems lost until the war ends and the boys return home. However, with every story about war, Ronsel and Jamie are completely changed when they return home. Their experiences in the war unite them in a bond that no one in their rural, racist and poor Mississippi atmosphere can understand.
When asked about her directorial style, writer and director Dee Rees (Pariah) speaks about the relationship work in which she had all of the actors engage in order to play their roles. This work shows in the film. While no one actor or actress outshines another, this is a perfect ensemble cast that works so perfectly and seamlessly together, it is easy to forget that they are acting. It seems as though they are just living. Rees creates a harsh, gritty and at times all too real environment that engages, shocks, disturbs and even angers her audience. Rees successfully juggles the maternal instincts of Mulligan and Blige with the paternal breadwinner narrative that Clarke and Morgan provide. She clearly shows that even though we have the same motivations and struggles in our lives, the truth is that those bonds don’t make us equal.
From the opening scene in the movie, it is clear that this is not going to be a pretty picture as the brothers McAllan struggle through the dirt and mud digging a hole which turns out to be a grave. The movie is dark and lowly lit as life was back in that time. Rees accurately captures the simple and plain look and feel of 1940’s farm living in the dilapidated housing where they live and the ragged colorless clothing they wear.
This film is powerful and strong, reminiscent of other works like The Color Purple, A Soldier’s Story and Beloved where the story is the star and the journey is most important. Unfortunately, even more than The Color Purple, this movie is destined to be overlooked. Although Rees has created a masterwork in her screenplay and direction, set for distribution on Netflix, the movie will not get the widescreen release that it deserves. It is scheduled for a limited release across the country, which means it will be seen on one screen in your local artsy movie house for a week or two and then be relegated to the Netflix channel. A movie of this intensity and magnitude deserves to be seen and relished and awarded on the big screen not thrown in with the likes of Marlon Wayans’ Naked, Frank Grillo’s Wheelman or whatever the latest Sandler bomb may be. Don’t forget the “limited” release is scheduled for the same opening weekend as that block-busting juggernaut, Justice League!
Rated R for some disturbing violence, brief language, and nudity, Mudbound is the latest entry in a long line of movies with the intention of bringing truth to help understand the roots of the cultural divide in which we still exist today. As always with the truth, it is deep and dramatic and hard to watch at times because of its intensity. Yet it also projects a hope of a coming time for those who should be bound for the mud. I just wish this truth would be exposed for all to see.