MUDBOUND is a peach of a film which in equal measure will make you angry and bring tears to your eyes.
It is set in the Mississippi delta in the early 1940s and charts the story of two families – connected by the soil and mud from which they toil to make a meagre living.
One is white, the other black. The McAllans (white) and the Jacksons (black). Although it is the McAllans who have the upper hand, life for both families is hard in an unforgiving environment where the rain turns fields into quagmires, livestock dies unexpectedly and illness hovers over the family homes like a bad penny.
Their lives are damned hard – and are disrupted by America’s entry into World War Two post Pearl Harbour. Both families are impacted as Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) – the younger brother of head of the household Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) – is sent off to do battle with German Messerschmitts.
Jamie is everything his brother is not – outrageously handsome, flirtatious, physically fit and talented. He has a charm that instantly won over Henry’s wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), a sensitive woman who despite all the physical hardships continues to play her cherished piano while longing for her weekly bath and looking after her two young girls.
Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) is sent off to war a boy. But he comes back a man with confidence coursing through his veins, a result of his harrowing experience in a tank division and a relationship towards the end of the war with a German woman. He is proud of his war achievements and proclaims himself one of General Patton’s boys.
Sadly, while Ronsel has earned respect among his peers in Europe, he is treated as scum as soon as his feet hit the Mississippi mud. At the store in the local town, he is challenged when he attempts to walk out the front door, resulting in him having to go out of the back like all coloureds. No one is more vile towards Ronsel than the odious Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks)– Jamie and Henry’s father.
Ronsel’s only ‘white’ friend is Jamie who comes back from the war scarred by what he has gone through. Drink is his main solace although the war has also taught him that racial discrimination is wrong, captured in one moment when a Tuskegee pilot comes to his rescue and wards off marauding Messerschmitts, waving to Jamie in the process. Jamie also continues to hold out a torch for Laura.
The two – Jamie and Ronsel – form a friendship despite the fact that it is frowned upon. There is one moment when Ronsel has to duck down so that Pappy does not see him in the front of Jamie’s car.
When Pappy discovers a photo of Ronsel’s German lover – with their child – in the family car, Ronsel’s fate is sealed. It makes for harrowing viewing as the local Ku Klux Klan carry out an awful punishment on Ronsel – one that will change his life forever and end another. The film’s ending is a positive one but most of what goes before is harrowing.
Mudbound is splattered with superb performances wherever you look. Rob Morgan and Mary J Blige are magnificent as heads of the Jackson household – Hap and Florence – infusing their characters with great grace and tendency. Hap the Pastor, Florence the trained midwife who comes to the McAllan’s rescue on more than one occasion. Blige’s version of Mighty River tingles the spine. The spectacles she wears as they leave their farm at the end of the film on a horse and cart are more 2017- than 1940’s-cool but forgiveable in an almighty film.
Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan and Garrett Hedlund are excellent while Jonathan Banks excels as evil Pappy. A special mention also for Lucy Faust who plays Vera Atwood, a troubled neighbour of the McAllans.
The film, based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, is superbly directed by Dee Rees. Her use of voiceovers by the main characters is masterful, bringing their foibles and personal troubles bubbling to the surface.
Mudbound is must see cinema. It is damning of American culture and the racial discrimination that to this day still scars part of the Deep South. Watch, marvel and churn with rage at the same time.
Henry: Jason Clarke
Laura: Carey Mulligan
Jamie: Garrett Hedlund
Pappy: Jonathan Banks
Hap: Rob Morgan
Florence: Mary J Blige
Ronsel: Jason Mitchell
Vera Atwood: Lucy Faust
Director: Dee Rees