Mudbound

 

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Deep in the Mississippi mud issues that won’t be buried.

 
Mudbound

 

Almost bypassing public screenings, this feature film by Dee Rees is a Netflix release that has received brief exposure at Curzon cinemas. It is a shame that it has not been shown more widely because, very well photographed in ’Scope and colour by Rachel Morrison, it cries out to be viewed on the big screen and has had the acclaim that makes a limited release unfortunate. Adapted from a novel by Hillary Jordan, the writing credit is shared by Virgil Williams and Rees herself and it is self-evidently a work undertaken with deep commitment and seriousness of purpose. Set in Mississippi and starting out in 1939, Mudbound is a drama in which racial issues are at its heart, a theme illustrated here in the context of the 1940s but still alarmingly all too relevant today as headlines remind us.

 

Mudbound (hardly an enticing title but arguably a valid one reflecting the history portrayed) does indeed in its film version suggest the scope of a novel. It centres around two farming families, the McAllans who are white landowners and the Jacksons who, being black, work the land as tenant farmers. Various members of both families contribute voiceovers so that the film involves us in depth with a range of characters. This happens as soon as we move beyond a moment of high drama placed before the credits with the ensuing narrative being in effect a long flashback.

 

Thus, it is that we meet the McAllan brothers, Henry (Jason Clarke), who will marry Laura (Carey Mulligan), and his younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), who will be called up in 1941. So will Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) in his case leaving behind his young siblings and his proud but anxious parents, Hap and Florence (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige). Both youths survive the war but come back changed men. Ronsel is confronted once again by the racist attitudes of the Delta, which are at their strongest in the father figure of the McAllan family, Pappy (Jonathan Banks), while Jamie reacts against that and chooses to bond secretly with Ronsel due to their comparable war experiences.

 

The scenes shared by Jamie and Ronsel are amongst the best in the film, while the outlook of Laura and Florence as mothers lessens the gap between them. Given the history of the period, it could be said that the film’s climax is not falsely melodramatic, but in its later stages the plotting has come to seem a shade novelettish and the all-out drama of the climax is perhaps rather indulged (either way for genuine power an earlier and much quieter scene in which Ronsel is required as a black man to use a back door is the one that really makes you cringe). It is also the case that the last scene falls into bathos, but for the most part this is a very impressive piece, finely acted (not least by Mulligan and Mitchell) and admirably edited (by Mako Kamitsuna). If it falls short of the masterpiece it might have been, Dee Rees nevertheless deserves our congratulations.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Garrett Hedlund, Lucy Faust, Frankie Smith, Mudbound, Elizabeth Windley, Kerry Cahill, Geraldine Singer.

 

Dir Dee Rees, Pro Carl Effenson, Sally Jo Effenson, Cassian Elwes, Charles King, Christopher Lemole, Kim Roth and Tim Zajaros, Screenplay Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, from the novel by Hillary Jordan, Ph Rachel Morrison, Pro Des David J. Bomba, Ed Mako Kamitsuna, Music Tamar-Kali, Costumes Michael T. Boyd.

 

Armory Films/ArtImage Entertainment/Black Bear Pictures/Macro-Netflix.
134 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 24 November 2017. Cert. 15.