REVIEW: Mudbound (2017)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a short review of Mudbound – Directed by Dee Rees

Mudbound is a period piece set in the 1940s about two families from opposite sides of the track — the impoverished African-American Jackson family and the white and more wealthy McAllan family — whose paths cross when Henry McAllan (played by Jason Clarke) is the victim of a scam and, as a result, has to move his family, including his racist father (played by Jonathan Banks), to an area unbefitting the lives that they had thought they would lead in Mississippi.

But the McAllan family is not so different from the Jacksons. Although their expected living standards differ, their future experiences will both unite and drive a wedge between them. Because while the Jacksons work for McAllan during the time of the Second World War, Ronsel Jackson (played by Jason Mitchell) and Jamie McAllan (played by Garrett Hedlund) are both at war overseas representing hope to those they liberate, even though the nation they represent doesn’t view Ronsel and Jamie as equals.

To me, the eventual shared post-war experience of Ronsel and Jamie is the crux of the film. Mudbound is a dirty and disturbing melodramatic epic that covers a wide-range of topics like PTSD and racial injustice. It is tough to watch once you realize that Ronsel’s experience as a heroic soldier in the war amounts to nothing for the people back home. Jason Mitchell is terrific in these scenes where he stands up to the people who look down on him, and both Mitchell and Hedlund blossom in their scenes together.

I was particularly impressed with Garrett Hedlund, who gives a career-best performance in this Dee Rees epic. But while Mitchell and Hedlund’s performances stand out, the entire cast is superb. As such, Mudbound does contain a lot of characters that the film works overtime to pay attention to, and, unfortunately, I ultimately do feel that the one major issue that I have with this film is that the filmmakers take on too much and thus overextend the film a bit.

This has been an outstanding year for Netflix ‘original films.’ Bong Joon-ho’s imaginative and emotionally-draining adventure film Okja, Mike Flanagan’s effective single-location horror film Gerald’s Game, and, my personal favorite, Noah Baumbach’s somewhat relatable The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) are just some of the great films that the streaming service has distributed this year. But even though Dee Rees’ Mudbound isn’t my favorite of their films, it is probably the greatest achievement of them all. Mudbound is a fantastic and important period-piece that tackles difficult issues with an astute touch.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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