STARRING: CAREY MULLIGAN; ROB MORGAN; GARRETT HEDLUND; JASON CLARKE; MARY J. BLIGE; JASON MITCHELL
DIRECTED BY: DEE REES
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
The ground we walk on could tell a lot of stories if it could speak. The soil has been enriched with the blood, sweat, and tears of those who have come and gone, in a country still hurting from a lot of pain. Director Dee Rees is telling one of those many stories, capturing the lives of two families that encompasses a large chunk of our American history. Mudbound is a story about that struggle to co-exist between the privileged white and the wrongfully enslaved African-American. This is a painful film, but a must-see for everyone, because movies like this start the conversation, and open our eyes to the injustices that can't be forgotten.
Interestingly enough, Rees begins the film where we will end, brothers Henry (Jason Clarke) and Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) are digging a grave for their recently deceased father (Jonathan Banks). How we got to this point is what Mudbound is about. Flashing back to the beginning, where we meet Laura (Carey Mulligan), a woman living a wealthy southern life. When Henry became her husband, she saw him as the stable person she could build a home with. His brother Jamie is the rugged one, making Laura swoon, but when WWII calls he flies off to the glory of becoming an air-force pilot. Things will change for the McAllan's when Henry is swindled into a poor Mississippi farm, which is where we meet the Jackson family. This opens us up to one families views of misery and another persons version of paradise.
The Jackson's are a tight knit family, built on the back and faith from father Hap (played magnificently by Rob Morgan), a man who preaches at the local church and dreams of owning his own land to farm. The tenderness comes from mother Florence (Mary J. Blige) who cares for all her children, especially Ronsel (Jason Mitchell in another Oscar worthy performance), who is headed to fight in the war as a tank operator. Even though this racist world is harsh to the Jackson family, their spirit stays strong, and when Ronsel and Jamie return home, they bond over war stories, and create a beautiful friendship. It is the rest of the cruel world that they can't escape.
One of the most impressive parts of Mudbound is Rees' ability to spread the narrative around. Taken from the novel by Hillary Jordan and co-written by Virgil Williams, Rees decides to use narration from each character, allowing us to gain an inside view of the minds of the individual. The ugliness we see from humans is set against a beautiful backdrop of golden sunsets on mud-dirt roads. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison paints a beautiful picture, during a time of misery. The direction of Rees is perfectly paced, with so many good performances all around, I couldn't tell you which was the best. Mudbound is a total team effort.
There is a distinct difference in the world the families inhabit. The McAllan's view this as their personal hell, while the Jackson's are dealing with the best they can get. Because of the color of their skin, they are not given the opportunity to leave their dirty shanty, with lousy well water, and little food. Yet, they show love to the McAllan's, caring for their sick children, and providing help on their farm. They even show kindness to the scumbag father. The friendship between Jamie and Ronsel is a beautiful merging of these families. They reminisce of the fight, while feeling safer in the trenches than they do in their own backyards. Their relationship is a clear example of how we are all cut from the same cloth. But it's not going to stay beautiful, as it will lead to an expression of hideous racism that will tear these families apart.
Mudbound is a painful, powerful, and passionate film. The performances from Mulligan, Blige, Hedlund, and Mitchell are spectacular; While Dee Rees should be mentioned in all end of the year best director categories. Honestly, Mudbound shook me to my very core. Much like Kathryn Bigelow's film from earlier this year- Detroit, or Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, this is a bitter and honest pill that we as Americans must swallow. Still to this day, we do not understand the pain that was inflicted on those enforced into slavery. Here is a film that asks us to look at the beautiful human beings that were destroyed by it all. It's all around us, buried deep in the ground, in the rich muddy soil.
Written by: Leo Brady