Quick Hit: For a movie about mud, it sure is beautiful.
I didn’t have much of an idea about this film going into it. And honestly, I’d highly advise going into it that way. Mudbound, a film directed by Dee Rees, is an extraordinary film full of outstanding visuals, terrific performances, and heavy ideas. The title is indicative of so much more than just what is evident, and goes on to tell a fantastic story full of love, hate, and life.
Mudbound tells the story of two families in the 1940s south – one black and one white. The black family, led by Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blidge) are sharecroppers, just a step above true slaves. The white family consists of the McAllan’s – Laura and her husband Henry, (Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke, respectively) as well as Henry’s father Pappy and Henry’s brother Jamie. The film doesn’t just focus on the obvious struggles here, but also finds time to focus on WWII and the effect it had on its soldiers – both in positive and negative ways. Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) becomes a heroic fighter pilot in the war, whilst Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) leads a tank battalion.
The film explores these relationships, and consistently comes back to characters and their relationships together. It’s these that truly hold the movie together and make it worthwhile. It’s all good performances, with nary a poor one in sight. Though it’s only too evident the different directions the film attempts to take with a beginning that starts at the end, it’s still a satisfying film with well-developed characters, full of motivations that lack nothing. I was particularly impressed with both Mary J. Blidge and Garrett Hedlund, whose performances are complex and full of emotional heft. Their character arcs are not only well acted, but also well written.
The script is a collection of moments told from a variety of perspectives. Though done primarily in voice over, the technique (apparently copied from the novel that Mudbound is based upon) provides a real sense of comraderie with each of the characters. It allows us to deeper understand and feel their emotions, as well as to understand their actions. The script also allows for the passage of time without being too abrupt. We know that time is passing as the war ends, but never does the movie find a point where it drags.
Besides the complicated performances and talented script, the real winner is Rachel Morrison and her cinematography. The film is dripping with old school landscapes and images. There are beautiful sunscapes that cloak our characters in light while still allowing time for darkness. And there’s the mud, filling the screen and dirtying our characters and their individual motivations. It’s everywhere, from the opening shot – and Morrison’s camerawork forces it into our view again and again, lest we forget it.
Possibly even more impressive is the emotions that Mudbound brings out of you. Whether it’s a taboo love story, a marriage stronger than the strongest bedrock, or an ending that pushes you to the brink, Mudbound is unafraid to tackle some of the most serious issues our country has had, and still finds time to give breath to the smaller issues. This unfortunately leads to my only problem with the film, as it at times loses characters due to the huge scope of the story. But other than that, I really enjoyed the film. It may be too intense for some viewers, but I think that it’s a necessary film. I’m giving the film an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"