Dee Rees, in Netflix’s Mudbound adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel, evokes a period and place in the Deep South where racial prejudice engulfs rural communities like a muddy swamp.
Strange Meetingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Mudbound is an atmospheric evocation of a dark place in America’s history when life was dirty and difficult. It’s a tale of two families, one white and one black, struggling to scrabble a living from unforgiving land in a remote part of the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s.
Laura (Carey Mulligan) has followed her husband Henry (Jason Clarke) from the city in his deluded purchase of a smallholding that he does not have the knowledge or ability to run. Their nearest neighbours are a hard-working black family, the Jacksons, whom they still assume they have the right to exploit and treat as servants despite their independence – subservient Hap (Rob Morgan) and wearied Florence (Mary J Blige in an impressive acting debut). Henry’s charismatic brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s beloved son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) both arrive home from serving in the US Air Force and Army respectively in World War II. Thrown together by chance in the small town, their shared wartime experiences both single them out from the stay-at-home locals and bond them together, powerfully enough to transcend the pervading racial prejudice of the time in the Southern states. A doomed secret comradeship – it has to be kept secret because it’s interracial – develops between them which, when discovered, scandalises the bigots of the local community, who cannot allow it to continue.
Voiceovers move us between the perspectives of six different characters in a way that recalls James Franco’s As I Lay Dying, also its similar Southern setting. Mudbound at times feels like a pastiche of all other movies set in the Deep South, with its extremes of poverty, rural isolation and prejudice. It’s also a searing indictment of its endemic racism, the legacy of the poison of slavery. Yet it also hints at the possibility of it being overcome by war’s upheaval of society. There’s folly, several kinds of love and sacrifice, violence, terror, tragedy and ultimately some kind of future resolution. Maybe.
Mudbound premiered in the UK at the 61st BFI London Film Festival and is released on Netflix on 17 November 2017. For a featurette on the making of the film, click on this link.