Review: Home Video
Mudbound | Dee Rees | USA | 2017 | 134 minutes
Now streaming on Netflix»

Taylor Cherry reviews Mudbound, the Netflix original film that earned several nominations throughout the film industry awards season.

Mudbound offers a unique, yet depressing, perspective of the Deep South during and after World War II. This film demonstrates how even a war that transformed the entire world didn’t change everything.

With the film so depressing to watch, and with every character’s lives constantly increasing in misery, I spent most of the film trying to figure out why I was watching something that made me so sad. I kept watching though, and by the end of the film the tension builds to a horrific scene that changed my sadness into anger.

Directed by Dee Rees and based on a 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells the parallel stories of a white and black family living in rural Mississippi. Both families are filled with heartbreak and hard times. The mom of the white family, Laura McAllan (Carrie Mulligan), had no choice in moving to the Delta with her husband, Henry (Jason Clarke), who brought along his racist and intolerable father, Pappy (Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks). The move demonstrates the lack of control women had over their destinies. Despite Laura’s best intentions, she seems to hold this forced move against her husband and defies him at opportune moments.

In purchasing their land, the McAllan’s take on the employee Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan), who lives with his wife, Florence (Mary J. Blige) and their children. Both families have members serving in the war in Europe, which should bring the families together. But besides a handful of kind gestures, there is little empathy and understanding between the two.  

The whole first hour of the film is just backstory setting up the two men returning from war. The build up did not need to be this long, especially since this part of the film made me bored and depressed, and I found it difficult to keep watching. We see the lives of the characters getting worse by the minute, with nothing positive in the imagined future except the return of their family members.

When the men do finally return home, the pace picks up. Laura’s brother-in-law, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), and Hap’s son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) arrive in the south to face immediate tension in this unchanged world. Though more entertaining, the second half of the film is not any easier to stomach. The transition back to civilian life is difficult, and the only bright light in the unhappy situation is the bond they form across racial divides.

Ronsel, though treated with respect during the war, is confronted with the racism that remained strong and stagnant while he was defending his country. The confrontations and messed up power structures shown are so obviously wrong, that I felt myself wanting to yell at the screen. What kept me going was knowing from the start that the racist grandfather was going to die.

The situation that manifests doesn’t at all seem fabricated or exaggerated, and therefore I did not feel like I was watching something made to manipulate viewers into a certain emotional state. This is when the message and reason for this film became clear: Mudbound is a very relevant and realistic depiction of a past we should have learned more from. KKK sympathizers and other white supremacist groups, then and now, are extremely offensive and terrifying.

Mudbound forces viewers to confront the legacy of this period in history, but also reminds us that we are all humans with feelings, families, and worth, and deserve respect.

This film also gives a unique perspective on World War II, a war that we Americans tend hold pride for stopping a regime that was attempting to eliminate an entire group of people. Yet, here we were in our own country marginalizing an entire race, and often viewing this group as non-human.

Though the beginning should have been cut down, and though depressing as hell to watch, Mudbound provides a compelling and historical perspectives on various sides of racism.

This film has not gone unnoticed, picking up four Oscar nominations, including Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige’s performance and Best Cinematography, making Rachel Morrison the first woman ever nominated for this category. While the film had far more nominations than wins during awards season, it did receive the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble Cast at the Independent Spirit Awards.

While it took me until nearly the end of the film to realize it, Mudbound has worth in watching. Providing unique insight into these lives and minds, and a glimpse of a time and place often forgotten, Mudbound ignites the anger necessary to combat some of the reactionary politics that exist today.