Film Review: MUDBOUND (USA 2017) ***

Mudbound Poster

Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.


Dee Rees


Virgil Williams (screenplay by), Dee Rees (screenplay by) |1 more credit »

MUDBOUND, a Netflix original movie, is understandably a difficult film to be made for general audiences dealing with racial tensions, mixed relationships and the Ku Klax Klan.  Despite complaints about Netflix movies not being ‘real’ movies distributed in theatres, in Netflix defence – it is thanks to them that difficult films like these, worthy and gut wrenching get made.  MUDBOUND is a film about class, friendship and the fight against ‘the land’.  The characters are pitted against a landscape of mud, with the elements of nature working against them.  Just as they are about to succeed, the characters are pulled back into the mire.  Hence the film is entitled MUDBOUND, and also perhaps it is a metaphor used too often in the story.

The film is narrated by a few of the story’s characters but mostly by Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan).  The story follows two families, one white, the McAllans, newly arrived from Memphis to his new farm in the Mississippi Delta.  The other, the Jacksons are coloured folk, sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations, but struggling to make a living.  Laura’s husband is Henry (Jason Clarke), a decent man, though stuck in his racist ways and they have two daughters.  The father-in-law is a racist pig.  The Jacksons are Hap (Rob Morgan), Florence (singer Mary J. Blige) and children.

The film setting is just after World War II.  The end of the war sees the return of Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell).  The war allows the race barrier to be broken between the two war heroes but their friendship is not tolerated by the town, especially the father-in-law.  When it is discovered that Ronsel bears a son with a white woman (a German during the war), he is brutalized by the Ku Klax Klan.

Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, and written for the screen by director Rees and Virgil Williams, the plot follow multiple stories divided between the two families.  Rees’ film flows smoothly with each story transitioning into another without the feeling of Rees acting like a cop directing traffic.

The film’s most unsettling scenes involve Hap Jackson’s infected leg, shown with all the pus and sores and the other the sudden appearance of the Ku Klax Klan.  Ronsel’s beating is also not easy to watch.  Rees gets her point across.  For a film about families working the land, Rees should have included more scenes depicting the hardship of toiling – though a few token ones are included.  The same goes for the war segments with one or two scenes in the tank and in the fighter jets.

The only trouble with MUDBOUND is the lack of one central character.  As the story divides between Laura, her husband, Ronsel, Florence Jackson and Jamie, the film loses its impact.  Still, MUDBOUND has nary a dull moment and gets its message that friendship and tolerance will save the day.