Directed by Dee Rees
American filmmaker Dee Rees has all the reasons to be proud of herself and her career. The outstanding drama, “Mudbound”, arrives in good time since racial discrimination and prejudice is a hot topic, which deserves immediate attention due to the recent escalate of tension. Ms. Rees was able to closely obtain the recognition of both cinephiles and critics with an incredible semi-autobiographical debut, “Pariah”, and since then, has been dedicated to several TV series as well as the Emmy award-winning biopic, “Bessie”, focused on the American blues singer Bessie Smith.
Based on Hillary Jordan’s debut novel of the same name, “Mudbound” was co-penned by Rees and Virgil Williams, starring Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J.Blige, Jason Clarke, and Jonathan Banks, who played their respective roles with as much forceful conviction as impassioned soul.
The first scene of the film bestows a lugubrious atmosphere when two brothers, Henry (Clarke) and Jamie McAllan (Hedlund), digging a big hole in the ground to bury Pappy McAllen (Banks), their widowed father, realize that the spot was a former slave’s grave. On the next day, in the company of Henry’s wife, Laura (Mulligan), they ask Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) for help as he was passing by with his family. Hap is a black tenant farmer who worked all his life in the same neighboring piece of land, just like their ancestors had done in the past.
The story, set in a highly segregated rural Mississippi and spanning from pre-WWII to the subsequent post-war years, winds back to involve us in the hapless life of these characters. All of them have a different yet equally massive emotional weight to carry on their shoulders.
Jamie, the younger of the brothers, departs to war, as well as Ronsel (Mitchell), Hap’s son. When they return, the handsome Jamie, who served as a pilot, is heavily immersed in alcohol, drinking every day to forget the traumas of war. He and his sister-in-law have an ardent chemistry that is difficult not to notice. In turn, Ronsel, wasn’t caught by post-traumatic disorder but arrives with another type of problem in hands. He had a relationship with a British girl in Germany and she just gave birth to his baby. His mind can’t go anyplace else. Moreover, the Mississipi's intolerance toward his ethnic group was the first thing he felt when stepped on that soil again. He couldn't be more articulate in his words: “I kind of miss the wartime. I was proud to serve my country and was seen as a liberator. Here, I’m just another nigger pushing the plow”.
Struggling to readapt to the civilian life, the two veterans understand each other, becoming genuine friends. They open up about their problems and enjoy the good-time moments spent together. However, the situation is seen as outrageous by the town’s fundamentalists, especially Pappy, a snooty, petulant, and spiteful racist who happens to be the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Additionally, another type of understanding is shared by Laura and Hap’s wife, Florence (Blige). Both know the difficulties of being a mother and a wife, and a quiet, tonic bond is formed through beautiful gestures from both sides.
The pacific days are gone, when Pappy discovers Ronsel’s secret and forces his own son to choose the punishment for his best friend.
Conjuring up a good slice of American history, “Mudbound” is an effective blend of emotional depth and rigorous craft. Never sloppy, the engrossing drama comes packed with strongly built characters whose natures make us care or despise them, with no space for middle ground.
This is another triumph by Dee Rees, an important, intelligent voice in the contemporary cinema, who knows exactly which message she wants to convey and what she needs from her cast and crew to make a film look and feel authentic.