Mudbound is an harrowing epic piece of American filmmaking by director, Dee Rees. Beautifully shoot by cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, while being very stressful to experience, the passion of all who made this powerful film is stained on to each and every frame of film, much like the mud and the dirt that is caked onto the skin and shoes of these farmers. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, with a screenplay by Virgil Williams, this film is solidly told and crafted with elegance, love, frustration, anger, and pain (take note of all the females at the top of this film’s power structure, it’s impressive and should be applauded – as it was at the NYFF).
It’s a complicated tale of two families, of two sons: one black and one white, coming back to the farmland of Mississippi, to find that they have a new war to fight and struggle against in the segregated and cruel South. The story is upsetting and deeply disturbing, steeped in the violent racism of America. There is goodness and devotion but so much anxiety layered on even the kindest of moments. One starts to watch the corners of each exquisitely filmed scenes, especially in the more compassionate moments, waiting and staying alert for the expected hatred and violence to rise its ugly white-supremist head and destroy all of the love and kindness on display.
This film is not perfect. It stalls for moments at a time, leaving us to our faith that it will bring us back on board. But what it does get right is to showcase what America was and sadly, still is. This country is not great, but is as dirty and upsetting as the mud that is bound to the bodies of these characters. I want to cry for all those people then and now, including myself (a member of the LGBTQ community and a card-carrying Native American Indian) who lived and now live under the terrible heart-crushing thumb of fear and oppression. I want to weep for us and present state of this union. I want to fight back in protest, to take a knee, for the pain this black family, the strong and proud Jackson clan who dream of a future of land owning and self-realization, must withstand in Mudbound. The parents, played most magnificently by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, who bear the weight of oppression, struggle as they watch their son, Ronsel, portrayed with power and intelligence by Jason Mitchell, return home to rural Mississippi after serving in the army, where he got a glimpse of something closer to respect and equality. The white McAllan land-owning family struggle as well in the hard landscape of the rural South, but from a place of dirty but structural privilege. Even while the wife, Laura, played wonderfully by the talented Carey Mulligan, and the young war pilot brother-in-law, Jamie, portrayed handsomely by Garrett Hedlund, try their best to be better and more fair, they still come from a place of privilege in a way that can’t be denied or ignored.