Have the times really changed all that much?
Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan) meets Henry (Jason Clarke) and all of a sudden, her life changes forever. She falls in love, gets married, has two kids, and together, they all move to work on a Mississippi Delta farm, where they’ll hopefully be able to stay there in peace, love and harmony. They live next to Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) Jackson who, despite all of the troubles and turmoils they face at the hands of racism, still do what they can to get by. For Florence, she’s mostly made to work for the McAllan’s, as both a nurse and caretaker, whereas Hap gets by as a sharecropper. They’re neighbors in the sense that they live next door to one another, but don’t really know how to connect in any sort of way. That all changes when WWII ends and their family-members return, with both mental and physical scars to bare. Henry’s brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) is struggling with getting over his fellow soldier’s deaths and Hap and Florence’s oldest, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), doesn’t know if he wants to stay in America, where he’s hated and disrespected, or back to Germany, where he fell in love and was adored for the first time. Together, the two forge something of a connection that causes all sorts of issues in the Jim Crow South.
Dee Rees’ debut, Pariah, was something of a small wonder. It was intimate, heartfelt, sad, funny, and most of all, insightful into the way certain people of color and sexual-preferences come-of-age. It was kind of disturbing in the sense that never flinched away from an argument or a conflict it didn’t like, but was also the rare kind of movie that we don’t get to see too often of, let alone from a black lesbian film-maker.
That said, it’s even crazier to think that Rees would be handed the keys to such a large, ambitious, and over-stacked project like Mudbound, but once again, that’s why it’s great Netflix is around. They’re able to take the risks and chances that most mainstream studios are too afraid, or too dense, to ever even consider. If it was bad, Mudbound would have proven to be a different kind of mistake, but a mistake that took a risk, for once.
But that doesn’t matter because Mudbound is quite great.
Though it’s much bigger and grander than Pariah, the heartfelt and simple emotions of Pariah are still to be found in Mudbound; they’re just much more mix and matched this time around. Rather than getting one or two subplots about people’s problems, we get three, or four, or hell, maybe even five. Can it feel like a bit of overkill? Sure, but Rees knows to give every character they’re own backstory, lives, and reasons to matter in a large story like this.
It doesn’t help that the narration can get in the way of everything, but when it’s all settled and gone, Rees depends on the ensemble, all of whom are amazing. While I was a tad bit skeptical of having Australian Jason Clarke and British Carey Mulligan, play these two roles as deep and dirty Southerners, they fit in well with the roles. Clarke’s subtlety works wonders for a character who were never sure of being a total racist, or just a kind one who’s trying to get by, but also knows that there’s a lot of tension between both races. Mulligan’s great too, even though she does do the sad, pouty-face an awful lot.
Maybe that’s just her trademark by now.
Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige are also quite good as Hap and Florence, with Blige really proving her acting-abilities as the heartfelt, but stern helper of the McAllan’s. Jonathan Banks also shows up as the incredibly angry and racist daddy of Henry, who always snarles his way into every scene, going on and on about blacks, whites, and the war. While this is a tired-type in these kinds of movies, Rees does her best to show that there’s much more to him than just a sad, old man. Perhaps he’s the way he is, because of the way society mandates it? Or perhaps, he’s just an angry, old codger who needs to shut his pie-hole? Either way, there’s something there that Rees touches on to make it seem like so much more than we’re used to seeing.
But at the heart of the film is both Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund, both of which give Oscar-worthy performances. The two create a bond that the movie really relies on and doesn’t use to just preach and pander; it’s made to show us that two sides can connect and get along, but also to make us all realize that each and every person is the same, with their own trials and tribulations to overcome. They both have a lovely chemistry that, at times, can feel a little homoerotic, until you realize that they’re literally just in pain and have nobody else in the world to connect with – the fact that they found each other and are able to gab away, is more than enough healing for both.
Currently, these two are some of the best actors we have around and it makes me hope and wish that more great is left to come.
Consensus: With an incredible cast, Mudbound finds Dee Rees taking on much more ambitious source-material, but not ever forgetting to find a humane, powerful pulse through it.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Netflix