Dee Rees’ Mudbound is radically engaged, heart-wrenching and emotional in every sense of the word, and spellbinding in its unending commitment to the visual presentations of tension.
This film is more like a melodrama for the stage. The complexity of each character is extensively explored in poetic soliloquies, a storytelling technique which in the hands of the wrong director and screenwriter could feel entirely unnatural, but here dramatically enhances the entire experience of being involved with viewing this film. It’s the type of film you cannot simply watch, you must dive into the pain and the drama of each storyline completely, to be subsumed by the depth of meaning both hidden and explicit in each shot, each scene, each moment.
The film, based on a novel by Hillary Jordan, follows a complex web of stories and characters who are trying to navigate life in Jim Crow Southern America: a space looming with the haunting past of slavery, new forms of violent oppression, and the effects of the second world war on returning soldiers. The story follows brothers Henry (Jason Clarke) and Jamie (Garett Hedlund), and Jamie’s wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), a woman who is constantly fighting with the submissive expectations of women from the generation of her in-laws. The brothers go to work on their racist father’s harsh and muddy farm which is where the parallel story begins, the story of the black family who live on the farm property – preacher Hap (Rob Morgan) and his son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). There’s the story of Pap and his relationship with his wife (played by the incredible Mary J Blige), and then the dominant plot – which involves the unlikely friendship between Ronsel and Jamie, a friendship that transcends the tension and pull of race politics but, more importantly, becomes a commentary on the nature of being a veteran in spaces drowning in hate rhetoric.
The supposed consensus in America is to respect soldiers, but the underlying comment is how a man will ultimately always lose his heroism or respectability when confronted with racism. The overlapping stories each contain their own weight and affective quality, but the best is the stunning cinematography of Rachael Morrison, who coats each shot with lighting and colouring so as to set the oppressive and painful situation of the characters in the mud against the privilege of the characters in the property’s main house. A powerful film.
Image: Steve Dietl/Netflix