Mudbound

Mudbound is a stunning film, gorgeously directed and skillfully acted.

By Lauren Wheeler –

I have avoided certain kinds of films for some time—namely, period films about black people.

Because, let’s face it, if it’s a period film about black people, and especially a period film set in the United States, it’s probably a film about slavery or Jim Crow. And so, when I sat down to see an early screening of Netflix’s Mudbound, the expansive post-World War II drama directed by Dee Rees, written by Virgil Williams and Rees, and based on the 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan, I took a deep breath.

Mudbound tells the tale of the Jacksons, a black family of sharecroppers who have worked some 2,000 acres for generations, growing cotton while lusting for their own parcel and the freedom and self-determination that come with it, and the McAllans, a white family who arrives when Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) decides to make his unspoken dreams of farming a reality.

At the center of the story are Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), Henry’s dashing younger brother, who returns from flying bomber jets over Europe to his brother’s farm; and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), the eldest of the Jackson children, who returns from commanding tanks under General Patton to the relentless bombardment of the Jim Crow South.

Perhaps it is this shifting of perspective, this effective leveling of the characters, that makes Mudbound such a tour de force as it tackles the film’s broad themes—the trauma of war, white supremacy, rural poverty, the sacrifices of motherhood.

Creeping around the film’s edges is a darkness and foreboding that manifests in Pappy, played to horrifying effect by Jonathan Banks. When Jamie and Ronsel forge an uneasy friendship, navigating their PTSD and longing for the world beyond their mud-soaked corner of the delta, Pappy acts as a constant reminder of the horrors of ignorance.

There is ambiguity in the way the film ends. Its resolution could be seen as predictable—and the reason I have for so long avoided films in this setting, with these themes. Or, it’s one of hope. It depends on one’s perspective, but this stunning film, gorgeously directed and skillfully acted, challenged mine.

Mudbound was nominated for Movie of the Year by the American Black Film Festival. You can watch Mudbound on Netflix.

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