Mudbound is a deeply moving film that works the same way a symphony works. Each instrument plays its part and the culmination of it is an overwhelming piece of artistry. Mudbound was released in 2017, but it remains powerful and prescient. It is currently streaming on Netflix and absolutely worth watching.
The story follows members of two families who become entwined in the Mississippi Delta in 1940’s. One family is black and has been working the land for generations first as slaves then as tenant farmers. Hap Jackson, played by Rob Morgan, is the patriarch of the family, and he is determined that if he and his family just work hard enough and earn enough they’ll be able to buy a little bit of land of their own. There’s a wonderful early scene in which Hap’s kids are chiding each other for their “outlandish” dreams of the future. Hap quietly tells each in turn never to make fun of someone’s ambitions. It’s the smallest of moments, but this movie is made of these small moments. Each one is just right not a note out of place. Florence Jackson, played by Mary J. Blige, is a hard working woman who holds everything together in spite of everything that happens to them. She is quiet dignity and solidity in a chaotic world.
As World War II begins, Henry McAllen decides to buy the farm and move his family from the city to country. Henry is played by Jason Clarke. He is a very particular type of old fashioned man. After a passionless round of intercourse with his wife, Henry states that in two weeks they will be moving across the country to this farm he just bought. His wife had no idea about any of this. He didn’t think to mention it. Again, it’s those little moments that make this movie. His wife is played by Carey Mulligan who gives a subtle yet fully realized performance as a woman who does the best she can with what she’s given. Her transition from a city life to one in which back breaking labor and death surround her is one of the many backbones of this movie.
Hap’s oldest son and Henry’s younger brother both fight in World War II. Ronsel Jackson, played by Jason Mitchell, is excited to go. He wants to serve and do his part. He ends up experiencing the horrors of the war inside a tank. Jamie McAllen played by Garrett Hedlund becomes a pilot and endures some truly horrific moments in the air. Both men are haunted by their memories of the war, but Jamie is deeply scarred. Ronsel however found what many African American servicemen found in the war; a place that accepted them. Ronsel returns to America to find a nation in which nothing has changed. He is still treated with contempt despite his uniform. He fought a war and returns home a second class citizen. These two men find each other and bond of over their shared experiences. This relationship forms the emotional crux of the story that binds both families in inextricable ways.
Every performance is pitch perfect. I could write endless paragraphs about each actor present. Every actor hits every moment perfectly. The film is also beautifully shot. Rachel Morrison deserved the Oscar for creating the look and feel of this movie. She creates such a vivid world in this movie that both firmly entrenches the film in its time period while also making it feel elemental and timeless. Watch it on the biggest screen possible.
The film contains some brutal moments. From its wartime violence to its depictions of racial violence at home, there are some truly difficult moments to watch. It’s not an overtly violent film. On the contrary, the violence is brief. But it is those brief flashes that make it more shocking and impactful. it is made all the more brutal because it feels so real. There is a moment between Henry and Jamie in which Henry pushes Jamie down. The emotion behind the act feels real. The force looks harsh. Jamie hitting the ground doesn’t look faked. It feels so much more violent than a brother a shoving a brother because the filmmakers and actors have given the moment the importance and weight it deserves.
This movie builds to a finish that left me in tears. The emotions crashed on top of me in a way few films are able to achieve. These characters endure extreme hardships. It’s the kind of of movie that makes me wonder ‘why would anyone choose to be a farmer?.’ And after all these little moments build throughout the movie and all the hardships and horrors these people have endured, the film comes through with a conclusion that pays off all of those little moments. All that hardship is paid off in the end. It left me devastated. It’s the kind of movie that requires a post movie walk to let it all settle in.
This movie is a journey that is worth taking. Watch this movie. It’s really good. It’s my cup of tea. A+