I have been struggling with which film to review next for a while now and initially, I was debating between Call Me By Your Name and The Post. After all, they are Academy Awards nominees for best picture that we haven’t covered yet, but my heart keeps telling me it wants to talk about Mudbound. Mudbound is nominated for four Academy Awards but none of which are for best picture. It seems to me the general public can often overlook films that aren’t a part of the best picture category, and this is a crime, especially for a movie like Mudbound.
I want—no, I need—more people to watch this movie because I feel it’s important in so many ways. Dee Rees, the director/co-writer of Mudbound, does an extraordinary job of recreating a place and a time. With the help of Rachel Morrison’s stunning cinematography, the film’s setting of a farm in Marietta, Mississippi, during the Post-WWII Jim Crow Era becomes a character of its own. The land deals out the harshest of conditions to the characters, yet it also holds the means to their salvation. The contrasting shots of days worth of rainfall and the ground flooded to a muddy wasteland juxtaposed to a then sunny, expansive green landscape, shows us this without even a need for plot or dialogue.
Dee Rees’s choice to have the narration and viewpoints of six different characters, if I were to have not have seen this movie, would appear to be ambitious and risky. It’s not often we see a film tackle multiple perspectives throughout the entirety of a movie so thoroughly and when we do, it doesn’t hit the mark quite like Mudbound. The voiceover of the characters of Florence, Hap, Ronsel, Jamie, Laura, and briefly Henry, immediately sets the tone. These voiceovers are at times extremely poetic and at others simple, but they always add to the story and to the development of the characters. If Mudbound were not to be told in this way, it would lack so much of what makes it great. The story depicts the different struggles of one African American family and one white family residing on the same land. The African American couple, Hap and Florence, is fighting to save money to have land of their own while basically being pushed down by Henry’s, the new white owner of the farm’s, boot. Their son, Ronsel, finds he has less freedom at home than he did overseas during the war and Henry’s brother, Jamie, turns to alcohol to cope with his PTSD from it. But, in these differences, some characters are still able to connect with one another at times. A friendship between Ronsel and Jamie develops as they commiserate over their experiences of the war and their challenges of fitting in at home again. Florence and Laura, Henry’s wife, share a tender scene in which Florence gives Laura the compassion Laura desperately needs that only another mother could. These moments are beautiful.
When it comes to the acting in this film, there isn’t a lackluster performance. Mary J. Blige discards her ‘Mary J. Blige-the singer’ persona and wholly embodies the character of Florence. Carey Mulligan as Laura is as usual, a pro, and Rob Morgan as Hap handles a lead role so well it makes you wonder why he hasn’t gotten more of them. Even Jonathan Banks as Pappy delivers a tremendous performance, though you despise his character. The one actor in particular who stands out to me is Garrett Hedlund. I’ve never been wowed by him in any of his movies, but here his depiction of Jamie is heart-wrenching and vulnerable. You feel the character’s trauma.
All of these aspects put together make Mudbound a well told, visually stunning film, but here’s what really gets me about it and why I feel it’s so important: It shows a specific time and place in American history that hasn’t gotten an abundance of light shown on it in films. It demonstrates the relevance of the Post-WWII Jim Crow Era on our present day struggles as a society. We still have veterans coming home to a country that doesn’t have a place for them, and our African American community still faces hatred and inequality. Although it takes place in the 1940s, it’s a story that resonates with our present. These stories need to be told. They help us to understand, to move forward in the right direction and to not let us fall back into the wrongs of yesterday.
The most uplifting part of this film comes at the end, though. Throughout the movie we feel the constant heartache and unrelenting strife of the characters, and when a horrendous act is committed against Ronsel, we think the human spirit has been demolished completely, but that isn’t what the film leaves us with. It ends on scenes of hope and rebuilding, and I think we can all use a dose of that. So, thank you Netflix for having bought the rights to this film and allowing it to be seen by a range of audiences. Thank you even more to Dee Rees for having the determination, courage and work ethic it took to make this film.