Despite being associated with Netflix, Mudbound is no made-for-streaming affair. Premiering to rave reviews in the earlier half of the year at Sundance, Dee Rees‘s film was snapped up by the media service after surprising snubs from the other major studio players. Rees is arguably having the last laugh though as this film more than deserves the awards chatter its currently garnering, with her transforming Hillary Jordan’s novel into an exquisitely made picture featuring career-best performances from its well-rounded cast.
The film’s plot-line is relatively simple as it details the relocation of Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke‘s Laura and Henry McAllen to a rural farm in Mississippi, circa WWII. Themes of racism and PTSD run rampant, and whilst it initially appears that perhaps Mulligan’s character will be the strongest focus, Rees ensures that Mudbound is a true ensemble feature, with many of the characters earning their own spotlight moment as they individually narrate their own tales, earning the film the feel of a Hollywood classic as opposed to a modern made production.
As reliable as Mulligan and Clarke prove to be, Garrett Hedlund as Henry’s charismatic brother Jamie outshines them considerably with his beautifully disciplined performance that is, by far, the best work he’s ever done. Similarly, Jonathan Banks as the McAllen boys’ KKK-loving Pappy is stellar, though his character is supremely hateful and one of the most horrific villains in recent memory. The black-and-white mentality of Banks offsets the more morally sound mentality of Mulligan, Clarke and Hedlund, and the weight of those characters and their relationships is evenly balanced by the black tenant farmers; Rob Morgan turning in fine work as the kindly patriarch, and singer Mary J. Blige simply stunning as his wife.
The character that perhaps shoulders most of the film’s direction however is Jason Mitchell‘s Ronsel, Morgan and Blige’s son, who returns from the war to still be deemed inferior by the somewhat-ignorant McAllen’s, save for Jamie who finds a kindredness in him due to their shared experience of surviving a war. In the supposedly informed times we live in today, it’s quite shocking that Mudbound resonates as strongly as it does in terms of race, with the film not shying away from the crime an interracial friendship was deemed as back then.
Running the risk of being overly heavy-handed or deemed lazy due to its voice-over narration, Rees successfully avoids being accused of both, showcasing an ease in her storytelling abilities and tailoring the devices of filmmaking to her strengths. Mudbound is, quite simply, a breathtaking film that is persistent in its treatment of a difficult subject without feeling like its enforcing a point of view in the process.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Mudbound streams on Netflix from today.