Starring Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige
After all the buzz, out of Sundance for Dee Rees (Pariah) new film, many were surprised it ended up going home with Netflix. However, after seeing the slow-paced film, I can understand why. It’s beginning to feel like every season a racial film of some sort emerges from Sundance. From there its then propelled to an awards season launch. Mudbound doesn’t have any stand out performances to speak of and by the time we get to the third act and begin to understand what the film is actually about, it’s too late. It’s simply not engaging for the first 90 minutes. “Waiting for whatever didn’t happen over there, to happen here,” Mary J. Blige’s character says at one point, underscoring my own sentiments for the well-intentioned movie.
When Sgt. Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) and Capt. Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) return from their service overseas, they have changed from the men who left to fight a war. Mississippi meanwhile hasn’t changed one bit. European’s, especially women, didn’t treat Jackson different because of his skin color. McAllan’s life was saved by a black pilot, altering his view on those who live on the other side of the tracks. Ronsel and Jamie didn’t know each other in war, but when they return to their respective families, that’s when they meet for the first time. Jamie’s older brother Henry (Clarke) is a hardened farmer, taking care of his wife (Mulligan) and their kids who barely make a living. Next door is the Jackson family, struggling even harder with money, now in debt to the McAllan’s.
Mudbound doesn’t have any stand out performances to speak of and by the time we get to the third act and begin to understand what the film is actually about, it’s too late.
The film begins with narration, each time a new character is introduced, they get their own narrated thoughts. We learn for example that Mrs. McAllan settled for her husband because she was a 31-year-old virgin. These tidbits of information are supposed to give depth to the characters, but there are too many characters in the way of the leading narrative. “Love is a kind of survival,” Florence Jackson (Blige) says, in a moment where she finally understands her own mothers sacrifice. Taking care of white kids, to protect your own. Florence is one of the most baffling characters, whether her bizarre sunglasses were in the source material or included because of the R&B star, it completely removes you from the film.
The moment Mudbound becomes engaging is when both son’s return home from the war. Set in Mississippi during the 40’s, you can only really expect one thing. The novel in which this film is based does throw a few nice surprises our way, especially when the men in white sheets show up, angry at the black and white friendship. Hedlund and Mitchell emerge as the leads and we finally get to the important stuff. Mudbound is shot well, nothing cinematically rewarding on the technical side. Comparing the black and white experience of the time isn’t something new on film. There are better films in various era’s that accomplish that narrative more creatively and effectively than what’s presented here.
Mudbound spends too much time on unimportant details, that by the time the main course arrives, you lose interest.