The constant intercutting between two related storylines—that of a White and Black family living in Mississippi in the 1940s—seems to have spread its narrative more thinly than intended, but this is still a crucial look at the ills of racism.
Dir. Dee Rees
2017 | USA | Drama/War | 134 mins | 2.39:1 | English
M18 (Netflix rating) for some disturbing violence, brief language and nudity
Cast: Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Bilge, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks
Plot: 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.
Awards: Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song
International Sales: Good Universe (SG: Netflix)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Racism
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Mudbound is a crucial film but not a terrific one. It has nearly all the ingredients to be a powerful work about the Black experience in America, but while it should satisfy most moviegoers hoping for a slice of that, it also feels like director Dee Rees might have been too ambitious in trying to weave two main stories (though both are interrelated) into one film.
There are numerous characters but there is no lead—one might see it as an ensemble piece with all characters taking supporting turns. The setting is Mississippi in the 1940s as two families—one Black, the other White—ply their trade as farmers.
WWII looms in Europe as America sends her boys to fight. A man in each of these two families goes off to serve their country, forever changed by their tour of duty.
“Over there, I was a liberator. People lined up in the streets waiting for us. Throwing flowers and cheering. And here I’m just another n***** pushing a plow.”
Mudbound is about the trauma of war as well as the continuing ills of racism, and how the fear of violence (as inflicted by racist White men) permeates in the consciousness of every Black person.
So what if good Americans regardless of race are fighting for freedom in Europe when there is still longstanding persecution against Blacks happening at home?
The constant intercutting between the stories of the two families, as well as scenes of the war in Europe (that sometimes recur cloyingly as flashbacks) seem to have spread its narrative more thinly than intended, but Mudbound does build to a harrowing third act that just about gives it the power it needs to work.