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Indeed, on the simple basis of its trailer, one would believe that "Mudbound" is simply Netflix making its "Color Purple", "Mississippi Burning" or "12 Years a Slave". Maybe. But there is something fresh and original in Dee Rees' adaptation of Hillary Jordan's novel and it's a considerable achievement that owes a lot to the writing, the directing and the unusual structure and patient pace of the film. Sure it is a companion to all the movies I mentioned but it has a sort of haunting quality, something that sticks to your mind and dwarfs a rather good film like "The Help".
What is "Mudbound" about? That's not an easy question to answer, a few negative critics pointed out the film's lack of focus because it's a multi-character story and there's no lead or supporting roles at first stance, just as they criticized the overuse of voice-over. I didn't mind the voice-over much, the story is so complex and multi-layered that I'd rather have a voice-over explaining things and make it my 'privilege' to pay or not pay attention to it. The lack of focus now is just a matter of half-empty or half-full glass. But here's a way to present the film in simpler terms. "Mudbound" is about two families, the McAllans (white) and the Jacksons (black) living in two neighboring farms in the Mississippi of the 40's.
Laura (Carey Mulligan) married Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), less moved by love than a desire to escape from her "old maid" condition, and marital life made her feel relevant and important. Henry isn't the romantic type but no bad man either, and I was glad the movie didn't take one path I expected. No, it's not about that kind of abuse. The McAllans are a steady couple and the Jacksons form a united clan whose patriarch Hap (Rob Morgan) is the descendant of former slaves who worked on that same land, Hap's dreams is to own it in the future although he's not fooled by the worth of any act of property in that racist state. The Jacksons might strike as too 'virtuous' and taking very solemn poses but once you get drawn by the atmosphere and the hostility they constantly face, you realize that "disunion" couldn't be an option. Hap and his wife Florence (Oscar- worthy Mary J. Blige) can't afford the luxury of not being at least "happy together".
But the film doesn't venture yet in these unsafe territories; the tone is only set with the presence of Henry's father: Pappy McAllan, a bigoted racist played by Jonathan Banks and whom we suspect will act like a ticking bomb. Henry buys a farm and Laura follows him, circumstances of life will force Florence to work for the McAllans, but as long as these two families mind their own business, so to speak, nothing seem ready to create conflicts. Except for what sets up the second act of the film, the second World War. The merit of "Mudbound" is to paint notable differences at first until you realize that the two families have a lot more in common. This 'common denominator' is the core of "Mudbound": the bond between the two veterans of each family: Henry's brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). Here are two men who've seen hell in Europe, the things we expect and that are not overplayed, but they also lived the exhilaration of liberating countries and discovering a fraternity that transcends racial barriers.
"Mudbound" breaks a taboo seldom explored by the movies: the hypocritical treatment of Black soldiers. America takes pride for having liberated Europe but not to the point of questioning the internal "prisons", and this is the concealed wound the film tries to heal. Ronsel is the most complex of all the characters because he embraced his country's idealism and couldn't believe he wouldn't be rewarded for it. Jamie suffers from PTSD and finds in Ronsel the only man capable to understand him, "Mudbound" began like the stories of two women, Laura and Florence who were growing to understand each other, a sort of "Color Purple" of the 2010's, directed by a woman and with enough narrative to play like a feminist hymn, but no, this is a movie about two men, Ronsel and Jamie who grow to respect each other because they found in the mud of the battle-fight the universally human bond. You know what that movie truly reminded me of? "The Defiant Ones".
The image that immediately comes to mind from that Stanley Kramer's masterpiece of 1958 is Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as two ex-convicts chained together and escaping from the police. They hate each other, they still carry some bits of racism but the first display of solidarity happens when they're stuck in a deep pool of mud and must climb their way to the ground. Mud isn't just about dirt or about ground but can be a powerful metaphor of something uniting two men, a metaphor for an even dirtier stuff, when "natural enemies" discover they're equally worthless when put in the same 'mud'... unless they try to overcome it. "Mudbound" carries this image but it's less about 'mud' than it is about a color-blind "bound". The mud is either literal in the film or represented by the trauma of war and also the suffering of women, while not the focus, "Mudbound" has a saying on that subject as well.
"Mudbound" is a proof that Netflix is becoming a major contender in the years to come, I don't know whether the film will meet with Oscar recognition but there should be some love to the haunting cinematography, the screenplay and Mary J. Blige should be a lock if Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis won for what I believe are lesser movies.
Let's start with the film's opening act, which is one of the most boring and frustrating hours I've spent watching a film. Starting off with a confusing and poorly executed opening scene, the film really fails to pick itself up over the course of its whole first hour, doing little more than to establish some of the main characters and the hardships of the muddy, isolated rural community, things that could have surely been done just as effectively in a good ten minutes.
For the duration of the whole first act, it's pretty difficult to tell what the end game of the movie actually is. For one, you've got the story of a young woman whose marriage allowed her to escape her dull family, and who also is deeply frustrated with the muddiness and poverty-stricken nature of her current life. Then there's some detailing of the horrific levels of racism in 1940s Mississippi, with the family's grandfather being the main example for some nasty remarks throughout. There's also a young black man who goes off to war, who we occasionally check in with during his battles in Europe, while we also see the brother of the central white family flying in the Air Force during the war.
As you can tell by that very bungled description, the film's first act is an absolute mess. There's very little way to tell what the main story is, and what you should really be focusing on for the biggest emotional intrigue, and that, coupled with the fact that it moves at a deathly slow pace, makes it a very frustrating and extremely tedious first hour.
However, things really do pick up come the second act. Upon seeing the two men return to Mississippi from the war, the film's central focus finally comes to the forefront, and we immediately get a very tense exchange between the racist grandfather and the African-American war veteran. That's undoubtedly one of the film's highest points, and sets up the atmosphere of deep racial tensions well, finally giving the film at least a continuing and consistent tension under the surface, something that was completely absent from its first act.
The second act then goes into looking at how different generations respond to the institutionalised racism, while also shedding light on how horrifically unjust some of the hardships suffered by so many hard-working African-Americans were at the time, which proves for an interesting, albeit never quite powerful watch. The film's middle portion is a great insight into the time period, and holds your attention throughout, but it never quite manages to hit you hard enough as a film telling such a story should do.
And then comes the film's final act, which is exceptional. For the final thirty minutes or so, the devastating reality of racism in the past is brought brutally into focus, and it makes for a deeply disturbing and uncomfortable but powerfully moving watch. With the film's tension at its height, it doesn't hold back in displaying some truly horrifying scenes, some of which are easily the most intense and powerful I have ever seen in a film dealing with the topic.
The final act is directed brilliantly, being frank and brutally realistic in its depiction of injustice, and moving along at a slow but tense pace to emphasise some truly horrible acts, all the while maintaining a strong dignity that allows the deeper, emotional side of the sequences to shine through too, all of which makes it simply astonishing to see.
It's fair to say then, given the huge range of comments I have for this film, ranging from total boredom to transfixing and hard-hitting emotion, that Mudbound is a very inconsistent mixed bag, however there is one element to it that works well from start to finish: the performances.
The wide range of characters in the first act does make its story somewhat muddled, but each of the actors really shines in bringing their own character to life. Carey Mulligan is very strong and convincing as a young mother frustrated with her life in poverty, Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell are both charismatic young men, meaning that their relationship really shines when it's on display, while Jonathan Banks is excellent as the terrifyingly racist old man, bringing a powerful tension into the film every time he walks into a room.
Overall, then, it's pretty clear that Mudbound isn't a resoundingly successful movie. At times an interesting insight into racism and injustice in the Deep South in the 40s, at others a tedious slog of randomly muddled drama and characters, and at others an astonishingly powerful, hard-hitting and truly memorable (dare I say it, even Oscar- worthy) drama, it's a very inconsistent and overall frustrating film. However, with its strong performances all the way through and exceptional drama at points, it is a memorable watch.
The Jacksons are a black family tenant-farming on land owned by the white McAllans who transplanted from Memphis. This land is so remote and life so hard, that tractors are almost non-existent and mules are rare enough. There is such a bleakness to this existence that all seem oblivious to the always present mudhole leading to the front door of their shack. Elation comes in the form of a privacy wall constructed around the outdoor family shower, or the sweetness of a bar of chocolate. Soon after D-Day, Florence and Hap Jackson send their son Ronsel off to war. The same thing is happening across the 200 acre farm to Jamie McAllan, brother of Henry and son of Pappy.
A shifting of multiple narrators throughout allows us access to the perspectives of multiple characters. We get both black and white views on war and farming. Days in war bring injury, death and dirt not so dissimilar to life on a Mississippi farm. When Ronsel and Jamie return from war, they are both suffering. Ronsel can't come to grips with how he was treated as a redeemer in Europe, but just another 'black man' being targeted by the KKK at home, while Jamie is shell-shocked into alcoholism and an inability to function in society. The parallels between the war experience of Ronsel and Jamie lead them to a friendship that ultimately can't be good for either.
Jason Clarke plays Henry and Carey Mulligan, his wife Laura. Jonathan Banks ("Breaking Bad", "Better Call Saul") is the ultimate nasty racist Pappy, while Garrett Hedlund is Jamie. Rob Morgan and Mary J Blige are Hap and Florence Jackson, and Jason Mitchell (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) is Ronsel. While all perform well, it's Mitchell and Hedlund who are particular standouts, as is a radio reference of the great Lou Boudreau. Rachel Morrison's cinematography is terrific and captures both the hardscrabble life of Mississippi, but also the frantic and tragic abruptness of war (in just a couple of scenes).
Racism is always difficult to watch, and in that era, everyone had their place/plight in life. It was a structure built to ensure misery for most, and one guaranteed to collapse. The acting here is very strong and the film is well made. The story-telling is consistently disquieting and periodically unbearable. Still, we are all tired (or should be) of hatred. The somewhat hopeful ending caused an audible sigh of relief from an audience of viewers who had been angry and clinched for more than two hours. And though there is no joy in Mudville, we remain hopeful, even today.
Dee Rees's film spends more time in battle, fleshes out the Ronsel- Jamie relationship, and dwells on the minutiae of African-American life in the Deep South, but in a choppily uninvolving way, and at the expense of Laura's intriguing story of love, repression, sexual and racial guilt.
Critically, it never summons the book's sense of inexorable, fatalistic dread, nor knows what to do as it reaches its climax, which is first silly, then rushed and finally pointlessly and unconvincingly rose-tinted.
Mudbound has a few painterly images, good performances from Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan (who has one fantastic scene largely disconnected from the narrative and the worst pregnancy prop in decades) and an unvarnished understanding of the unglamorous, subservient pragmatism needed to survive as a black man in '40s Mississippi, but it isn't very compelling or convincing.
I say this as a middle-class white bloke, but... what promised to be a timely exploration of the African-American experience from an urgent and valuable contemporary voice is instead just a standard book adaptation: a mediocre melodrama that deals with big themes in a handsome but hackneyed way. Plus lots of Mary J. Blige staring out of windows.
I was fortunate to have grown up in Canada in the 1950s. My Dad started his dental practice with a Japanese partner. Most of his patients were Native or Metis, who would, often as nought, pay him with chickens or a side of venison.
As I said, this story was relaetable to me, not because I share the centuries of oppression suffered by many many millions of African Americans, But because I am a Jew. And in the decade that came after WWII, was, practically, in a small town.
There is hate out there always THOSE WHO HATE ARE INSECURE.
In my opinion, this film is so important to where we were and where we've arrived, that it should have been given wider distribution beyond Netflix/s web. This story and its' storytellers should have been picked-up by a major studio.
Still, well done to all the tellers and actors - You have made my month! (maybe my year) I'd bet you'll never be the same for having the chance to perform these roles.
A melodrama about a white family and a black family on a Mississippi farm before, during and after the Second World War is a well-intended premise, but this film definitely could have used more editing. The characters are introduced quite well and there are some genuinely well-executed scenes, especially the heart-wrenching climax. But getting there takes so long and during these intervals I was wondering what the whole point of it was. Another sign that the story was not told very well: I actually forgot that the farm was struggling until one of the characters mentioned it. An important plot thread like that wound up feeling more like a footnote.
Some of the performances, although high quality, are wasted. Carey Mulligan is the best example of this. She starts out as a relatively central protagonist before fading into the background. In the end, she's an ill-defined character. Jason Clarke starts out strong, but he's also something of an afterthought by the end. On the plus side, Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play well off each other as two war veterans who come to grips with the institutional racism of 1940s Mississippi and who both realize that life was, in some ways, better in the military. Jonathan Banks gives a committed performance as the aging grandfather who deplores any indication of social change.
But despite the strong performances, this is a film I would only remember as one that took long to get through. To put it bluntly, I was snookered by the reviews. They praised this film as brilliant and I bought it, hook, line and sinker. Regrettably, I cannot recommend this film because then I would be joining them in that lie.
Two different families living in the same environment, but in different worlds at the same time. The performances were real and grounded, which created some memorable moments on camera. This film doesn't a very good job of displaying the natural love one human can have for another, regardless of their racial background, that racism is a learned trait.
The films also highlights the lasting effects of war (PTSD,...).
The acting is excellent and the scenery is sometimes beautiful and sometimes depressing.
The only criticism I have of the film is it portrays the relationship between Ronsel and the German woman in a romantic way. Nothing would have been further from the truth during and after the war. She would have been an outcast. The Germans referred to these women as "sluts" and "Ami-lovers" and their children were branded as "bastards". This would have been even worse for her as she gave birth to a black child. It would have been more believable if the woman had been French rather than German.
Other than that it's an incredibly good movie from beginning to end.
A period drama about two former soldiers returning home from World War II, to work on a farm in Mississippi, and each having to deal with racism and life after war in their own ways. The film was directed by Dee Rees, and it was written by Rees and Virgil Williams. It stars Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige and Jonathan Banks. The movie was released by Netflix, through their streaming site, to almost unanimous rave reviews from critics. It's also been nominated for multiple prestigious awards as well (with Blige getting the most recognition so far). I agree with all the other positive praise.
The story begins in 1939 Memphis, Tennessee. Laura (Mulligan) is a 31-year-old virgin, that still lives with her parents. She's courted by her brother's boss, Henry McAllan (Clarke), and the two marry. They then have two children together, and move to a farm in Mississippi, that Henry bought. Henry's racist widowed father, Pappy (Banks), moves with them. There they meet Hap Jackson (Morgan), and his wife Florence (Blige), and the two begin working for the McAllan family. Henry's younger brother Jamie (Hedlund), and Hap's eldest son Ronsel (Mitchell), both enlist in the army, during World War II. When they return home they meet and become friends. They also both have to deal with their own personal issues, including racism and PTSD, which are enhanced by Pappy McAllan, and the other local white townspeople.
The film is a really well made and detailed story, that covers a lot of different characters, with completely different stories. It does a really good job of showing what racial relations were like, for both whites and blacks at that time, and of course not all whites were bad obviously. Rees's script and direction are both excellent, and there's a number of good performance from a more than decent ensemble cast. I'd also have a really hard time saying who the main character is; Mulligan gets top billing, but she's arguably the most famous. The heart of the movie revolves around the two soldiers, and their relationship, even though that's just a portion of the whole story. I think it's a really effective movie, because of all of these different great qualities.
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But the movie still gets by. It's a smoothly interwoven soap opera about two families the McAllens (white) and the Jackson's (Black) living on the same piece of Mississippi farmland, both with a son who has gone (and come back from) the war. The sons become friends. Together they wallow in self pity, but deep down they have a yearning to be back there, where they feel they belong, where they are seen as heroes, and where colour matters not.
The early scenes in the movie are cut fairly short to accommodate the exposition of an ensemble cast As a result, the opening act feels a bit rushed, but it succeeds in setting up a realized and sympathetic environment.
In so far as the movie has any breakthroughs, it showcases rising star Garrett Hedlund in best acting to date. He sports a Glarke Gable moustache that is so sexy its almost distracting in a film where everyone is covered in dirt. but the mud is the real star of the movie. It brings a reality to an otherwise dreamy landscape of warm sunsets and endless fields of green.
Instead of choosing just one theme to focus on, Mudbound focuses on many issues of the era, many of which are still relevant today. It's not just a racism film. It's about PTSD, family, ownership of land and relations between families. Even if you're sick of racism films, give this a watch. It also explores America's racist past in new ways: Ronsel, returning from the war, finds it hard to adapt back into America's racist system. He's just gone and fought for his country, and yet it still treats him as a second-class citizen because of his colour. Why didn't he stay in Europe, where racial equality exists, he must wonder.
Mudbound's major slip-up is that it waits too long to properly introduce its two main characters into the story. It gives small snippets of their time fighting in WW2 but little more than that. This makes it slightly jarring when the focus suddenly shifts to them about halfway through. And yet, it's hard to care about this flaw by the end. I was too swept away by the emotions to care.
This film did not leave me with a sense of hope. After WWII, many black men moved to Europe where they were treated as equals. I realize the Mudbound story takes place in 1940s but do people actually think America is the land of the free today? I don't think so. And seeing Americans vote someone like Trump into power only makes those of us on the outside wonder ... what is the fate of this country? .
Firstly, I want to mention the things I wasn't too keen on. The biggest one - BY FAR - is the fact that there are so many narrative voices, and the narration is so frequent and so invasive that it started to grate on my nerves a lot. It also doesn't help that the narration contains very anecdotal stories that don't serve too much of the plot, and is a case of "show don't tell" being ignored. There is a large portion of the film when the narration goes away, and I was happy, and then it came back and I was just annoyed all over again. The more constructive problem is that this constant infighting of narrative voice keeps the film from having a clear Protagonist, and so for the first hour and a bit before the focus moves to Jamie and Ronsel, you feel very pulled in all directions, and very disengaged sometimes.
Secondly, something that I will admit is both a blessing and a curse is that director Dee Rees has a very realistic style of directing in terms of the world's physics around it, so the light is all natural within scenes ala The Revenant so to speak. The drawback to a lot of this is that there are scenes shot at night that are so lowly lit that you can't see a f***ing thing that's going on. There's one scene this works fantastically, which is one of the best shots of the year, but aside from that, it's really hard. There's also some slight jarring from the film's score which is mostly absent and then comes in like a wrecking ball, and it's really abrupt and kind of kills the mood.
Thirdly, somewhat less importantly, is that the film has a very vague sense of time passing, to the point where I can only tell that 9 months has passed because someone has been born, but there's nothing else to indicate that in relation to everything else.
Lastly, whilst a lot of the cast do more than pull their weight, there are also some players that don't. Particularly, Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke continue a trend with their work, which is that when they are not being passionate about the role, they kind of sleep it through. This is common with Mulligan, who will give performances like An Education, Suffragette, Shame and Drive, but then in a large amount of other roles, be bland as hell. Jason Clarke likewise, will be a charismatic confident leader in things like Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty and Everest, but then will do this when he is largely distant.
And now, this is when I point out that I do like this film, a lot. It is a long movie, but I did keep going with the elements I didn't like to see where they led, and they led to a fantastic final 45 minutes. Everything has led up to this point, and this culminates in one of the most uplifting final shots of a movie this year, and a haunting scene involving the KKK and a trio of amazing actors. This scene, led by Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks and Jason Mitchell give it their all in a scene that reminded me a lot of the 12 Years a Slave soap scene. Mary J. Blige is also fantastic as well, and those 4 really hold the cast together, moreso with Jason Mitchell who is one of the most exciting new actors around, and who in this movie really makes a statement for Best Supporting Actor. So do Hedlund and Banks, but Mitchell is amazing.
So I don't regret watching this movie; just don't like it as much as others do, but I am very happy I saw it.
Let's start from the top, I really love the overall message that the movie wants to pass, the prejudice, the bad things that humankind it's willing to do sometimes, but also, that there are good people out there, into the mud and the durst.
Anyway, this is what I love about the movie, I love the way that it approaches the subject, you fell for all the color characters that are on screen, you want to step up, and fight for them, you fell rage for the KKK a-holes, and a lot of other feelings. In this subject (the message one) the movie is great, thrilling, and engaging. However...
In my opinion the biggest flaw of the movie is his need to give everyone a voice (littery a voice, they have narration moments), and does not work.
Look, I'm not a hater of narration on movies, I think that if they are used in the right way, they work, but here they overuse this style, and with half away of the runtime you're just tired to hear someone pop up and talking about their feeling every 5 minutes. And is also confusing at times, the pacing of the editing.
The movie is also really boring at times, mainly when Jason Clarke's character is on screen, you just don't care about him, his family or anything like that. And this happens probably because they don't do anything special when they are on screen.
On the other hand, the acting here is amazing, everyone is great on the roles especially Jonathan Banks (you truly hate the character), Garrett Hedlund and Rob Morgan. The score is very good also.
In short, Mudbound is a movie that worth see it, approaches a tough subject, that we must not forget that happened, and change our mindset, in order to ensure that this behavior stops (because this continues to happen, in other forms, till this day). The movie fails on some editing, pacing and screenplay perspective, but, the overall message stills strong.