Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017) 4/5
Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Hilary Jordan, this film chronicles the experience of two soldiers returning home from World War Two, Jamie McAllan (Garett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). The only difference between them is, one is white and the other black. From this relationship, we are introduced to their respective families. Jamie’s brother Henry (Jason Clarke) moves his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children to the south to start a farm. Whilst Ronsel’s family live on the land and are held together by his mother Florence (Mary J. Blige).
At first glance, the narrative is not something we haven’t seen before and there are allusions to ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ with the civil rights movement and race relations continually bubbling under the surface. However, what is unique here is that this plays much more like a classical 1950’s melodrama than an ultra-gritty post-modern critique. This is mostly seen through the relationship dynamics of both families, whereby they struggle to provide a living, under the weight of an expectant harvest.
Dee Rees follow-up to the independent darling ‘Pariah’ strips everything down to a simple story of friendship between two soldiers and how they are looked upon by their society at home. Unsurprisingly, Ronsel is looked down upon and Jamie is welcomed back a hero. This creates the tension that makes the film so worthwhile, as nothing is made explicit, and most of the racism is represented through Jamie’s grandfather Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks). Laura and Henry are at best ambivalent and at worst ignorant to these troubles.
The real winner here is actually Mary J. Blige who produces a stellar performance as the strong matriarch, who, much like her music, powers into the narrative. It will be somewhat surprising if she doesn’t get some awards attention for this role (Hollywood does love a crossover Star does it not?!).
In sum, Dee Rees film, produced entirely through Streaming giant Netflix is tragic, thought-provoking and a powerful piece of cinema that highlights just how important – and detrimental – familial ties can be.