Issue 130:2017 11 23:Mudbound (Adam McCormack)

23 November 2017


A film by Dee Rees

Reviewed by Adam McCormack

Star rating: ****

Based on a 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells the story of two families, one white, the other black, trying to cope with the consequences of war, extreme weather and economic hardship in rural Mississippi in the 1940s. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) yearns to leave the city and get back to the life he knew growing up on a farm and, having found a wife (Laura, played by Carey Mulligan) he buys some land and takes his family, including his father, to live the country life.  At the outset the signs are not good.  Henry has been duped over the possession of the farm house and has to move his family into a very basic farm cottage near the black sharecroppers, the Jackson family that will work for him.  For most this would be a tough proposition, but the McAllan family has grown up with deep seated racist instincts which are sustained by the behaviour of the rest of the locality.  Events develop to challenge these attitudes, particularly when health issues mean that the family needs the help of the Jacksons, and when sons of both families return, traumatised by their experiences in the war in Europe, with new attitudes to racial integration.  The extent to which each family member is able to change is markedly different and reaches a climax driven by the defiance of Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), made more shocking by the involvement of the Klu Klux Klan.

This is a brutal tale, told with great sensitivity. Carey Mulligan excels as a woman who marries to escape spinsterhood rather than for love and who, for the love of her children, opts to coexist with her black neighbours.  That black soldiers were sent to war as cannon fodder, but were taught by their experiences in Europe that they did not have to live as an inferior race, gives an effective catalyst for the drama that unfolds.  Garrett Hedlund also delivers a compelling performance as Jamie McAllan, driven to drink and idleness as he is haunted by the violent deaths of his bomber plane comrades, but ultimately becoming a rebel with a cause, in fighting the victimisation of Ronsel.  Mary J Blige, as Florence Jackson demonstrates that she is genuinely multi-talented.  Ultimately the tale may be a little too rounded and complete, for while director Dee Rees gives us an immersive experience of the hardships that both families face, the denouement seems a little too convenient and too “Hollywood”.  Nevertheless, this is still worth a visit to the cinema – or a subscription to Netflix, given its simultaneous release.



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