Mudbound - 2017
Director(s): Dee Rees
Writer(s): Virgil Williams and Dee Rees (screenplay) / Hillary Jordan (novel)
Cinematography by: Rachel Morrison
Editor(s): Mako Kamitsuna
Cast: Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Garret Hedlund and Jonathan Banks.
Synopsis: A look at two families, one white and one black, trying to survive in the farm lands of 1940’s Mississippi.
When was the last time someone gave you a bar of chocolate and you felt yourself overwhelmed with joy and gratitude? That’s how Florence, played by Mary J. Blige, felt when her son gave it to her as a present, days after he came back from the war. This moment and many more highlight the struggles of the times and how a simple chocolate can be a source of happiness in a rather bleak existence. Hilary Jordan’s novel tackles a large spectrum of themes raging from the racial tension in the south, to PTSD from WW2, to how women were treated under the rule of their husbands, all of it adding up to a hard but necessary watch.
Director Dee Rees delivered one of the most gut-punching movies of the year. She created a balance of scenes in which the mundane aspects of farm life are contrasted by either the terrors of war or the terrors of racism in the deep south. We see a father plowing the fields that will pay for the future of his family, while his oldest son is taking fire inside a tank. This highlights how, despite how ugly and terrible life can be at times, the wheel never stops moving as we just keep doing our day to day routines.
I was honestly impressed by the balance Rees created with all the heavy topics this film tackled. While it all stuck with me after the movie ended, there is a thought expressed by Florence’s son Ronsel, played by Jason Mitchell, that stood out the most. He expresses the fact that he felt more welcomed and safe during the war in Europe than now in Mississippi. Back there he was a liberator, a hero and a welcomed lover. In Mississippi, he is barely recognized as a human being. I’m not afraid to say that I would never want to or welcome the thought of going into a war zone. I feel safe, as much as I can and welcomed in my community. It honestly shocked me knowing that someone can be so isolated by hatred and ignorance that they prefer to be in a war than in their home.
The acting in this movie is superb. Jason Mitchell and Garret Hedlund’s friendship felt genuine and hopeful, being one of the few silver linings in this movie. They created a bond over the fact that they survived the war and now feel like they don’t have a place to call home. Rob Morgan as Harp, Ronsel’s father and local preacher/farmer was fantastic. His best scenes come from him reading letters his son sent the family and the line delivery during a burial. Jonathan Banks as Pappy, father of both Hedlund and Clarke, is the main source of the racial tension of the movie. I think it’s his best performance by far.
Finally, Mary J. Blige as Florence was a revelation. I honestly can’t say I thought she had this good of a performance in her. She was strong through her facial expressions, but subtle through her actions, carrying the weight of her family’s situation on her shoulders. There is a scene in were Morgan’s character looks at her for guidance and she simply gives him a head nod and somehow that nod needs to be added to her acting reel.
Mudbound has received praise at every single festival it has played at, including this year’s Sundance. After watching it, I completely understand why. While I still had some qualms with the voiceover narration, a product of adapting a novel, I still feel it’s one of the best movies of the year. Netflix scored a potential Oscar contender. While it’s not an uplifting, happy-go-lucky watch, it’s one that deserves your time and attention. Mary J. Blige is why I love movies.
Mudbound is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it.
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