Saturday, 2 May 2020

Movie review: Mudbound, dir Dee Rees (2017)

In rural Mississippi, Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Henry (Jason Clarke) grow crops on a small farm where tenants are a black family: Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) and their children, one of whom, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), like Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), goes off to fight in WWII.

Both young men are permanently changed by the war. In Ronsel’s case, furthermore, though he had been a tank commander, after he returns home he comes up smack-bang against the old animosities, the racial discrimination he temporarily left behind after he arrived in Europe. Relations between the two families might improve in the absence of the deep-set hatred Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks) displays for the Other. Exposing the delineations of something so violently amoral as the kinds of racism that Hap Jackson and his family are faced with every day is traumatic even for the viewer but in this film the cinematography and the writing are as good as the casting.

It always seems to be raining, the sodden earth requiring extra labour so that it will yield a cotton crop. The rain functions as a leitmotif, a reminder of ingrained tendencies buried so deeply within the bosom of the land that it seems there can be no escaping their influence.

Hence the movie’s title. Despite some misgivings it impressed me though it might not suit everyone. It is based on a 2008 young adult novel by Hillary Jordan and though it’s hard to watch sometimes much of the characterisation is nuanced, for example the less abrasive but still evident racism of Henry. Different members of the McAllan family have different views and different ways of dealing with their black neighbours. Some scenes are shocking but it has a strong narrative arc that takes you effectively to a place from which you can see enough to understand a climate of fear that, even after WWII, obtained in parts of the United States of America. This powerful historical drama is on Netflix and is by the director of 2020's ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’

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