Mudbound review: An indelible tale of Deep South racism

Netflix looks to awards season with this robust historical drama from Dee Rees

Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund

Film Title: Mudbound

Director: Dees Rees

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Garrett Hedlund

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 132 min

Wed, Nov 15, 2017, 05:00

   

In the 1940s Laura (Carey Mulligan), a 31-year-old “old maid”, meets and marries Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), the sterner, sensible brother of dashing airman Jamie (Garrett Hedlund). He whisks her away to the remote family farm in the Mississippi Delta where she and others must endure the invective of the racist McAllan patriarch, Pappy (Jonathan Banks). Their hard-working neighbours are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan and an exceptional Mary J Blige). Both families have members who return from the second World War. The damaged, drunken Jamie finds some comfort in the company of the Jacksons’ eldest son, Ronsel (Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell), who has come from the frontline in Europe, only to find that nothing has changed for him in the country he fought for. In fact, the veterans’ budding friendship soon puts Ronsel in danger.

Netflix looks to finally make a splash during awards season with this robust historical drama from writer-director Dee Rees. If anyone can break the Netflix duck, it has to be Rees, who is rightly something of an award magnet. The filmmaker’s extraordinary sophomore feature, Pariah, took home the John Cassavetes Award from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance. Her recent biopic of blues singer Bessie Smith landed four Primetime Emmys and was named best movie by the Critics’ Choice panel.

In a script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, Rees and cowriter Virgil Williams (ER, 24) find a microcosm of contemporary racial politics and faultlines in historical segregation. For an epic that might easily be titled “America”, Mudbound is never heavy-handed or pretentious.The screenplay’s use of voiceover – a device that too often makes for lazy cinema – allows for a plain-spoken chorus of inner monologues and fluctuating perspectives.

Working with a terrific ensemble, Rees crafts one indelible moment after another: an injured Hap marvelling sorrowfully at his industrious wife attempting to mask her aches and pains; Ronsel visiting the local store where Klan sympathisers literally stare the proud military gait right out of him; Laura’s joy when Jamie builds her a shower.  

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison cleverly shifts according to the speaker or the relevant homestead, and finds a paradoxical aesthetic: a kind of glowing murk. It is as commendably earthy as its title.