The 1940s seem to be a popular era for films these days. Hollywood has caught a nostalgic fever around the pre and post periods of WWII in particular. We have seen films this year like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour center around the events of WWII that paved the way for how we live today. Mudbound is a film in that same grain. Taking place during the sunset of WWII, Mudbound tells the stories of both a black and white family in Mississippi, who share in common the fact that one of their sons has just come home from the war and is learning how to adapt to their next phase in life – a phase so frightening in a place so familiar.
I heard about Mudbound a few months ago and how it was being well-received at various film festivals all year, including the Sundance. I read about how Netflix bought its rights and would be releasing it both on Netflix and in theaters in November for a week-long run. I am so mad at myself for missing this in the theater during that week on the big screen. Mudbound was made for that. It is a big-time, major league production with an even bigger message and powerful story. In fact, I would go as far as to say if it doesn’t win Best Picture it will be directly related to the fact that it wasn’t a theatrical release. Yes, it was that good.
The film centers around Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), two young American soldiers, one white and one black, from the heartland of Mississippi. Both of their families are very different in structure, but the same in the fact that they’re struggling to make end
s meet in post-WWII America. Ronsel’s family is centered around love and support with his mother (Mary J. Blige) being the matriarchal foundation holding it all together. Jamie’s, on the other hand, is filled with negativity and deception from his cold brother Henry (Jason Clarke), and hatred injected into it from his malevolent, racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks). Both circumstances were very familiar and very real during that time deep in the heart of Dixie.
Both Ronsel and Jamie struggle to gain a sense of normalcy back home. They each have issues gaining acceptance from their families now that the initial phase of joy that they’ve returned home alive and in one piece has run its course. They both struggle gaining steady employment, and both feel mental post-war aftershocks internally – which bring them together and serve as the foundation to their friendship.
Part of what makes Mudbound so powerful is that it’s not only an accurate depiction of life in the South during that time, but it also still resonates currently, being that our country still unfortunately deals with both blatant and inadvertent racism today. In addition to that, the film also strikes a chord by addressing post-war life of American soldiers when they return home to hostility and an uncertain future after defending their country overseas. Unfortunately, this also is an ongoing issue that a lot of our military men and women still face. One scene that stuck to my bones (no pun intended) was when Ronsel says how he was treated like a king more so in a foreign country than in his own. As a soldier in Europe, he spoke of having local villagers crowd the streets and greet them with open arms like celebrities or royalty – only to come home to white locals like Pappy telling him “I don’t know what they had you doing over there, but here in Mississippi, you still walk out the back door.”
Pappy was the epitome of bigotry, and the biggest jerk (feel free to insert several other stronger words) that side of the Mason-Dixon Line. The hatred you have for his character is a testament to how incredible Jonathan Banks portrayed him. One of the biggest compliments you can give an actor playing the heel in a film is to tell them you hated them when you watched it. Banks depiction of a hateful old man is so good, and sadly so accurate, that it blurs the line of reality in your mind as a viewer.
Although Mary J. Blige has gotten a lot of acclamation for her role as Florence, including a SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the true gem of the film in my opinion is Jason Mitchell. Mitchell isn’t a household name, but I thought he was excellent as Easy E in Straight Outta Compton, and has really shown his range here portraying a character with such depth as Ronsel.
Dee Rees, the director of Mudbound, made this movie in such a way that you find yourself viewing its events through the eyes of the character you find most relatable. Rees, as well as this amazing cast, make such a difficult task like that seem effortless. As a direct result of this film, I will make sure to keep a look-out for Rees’ future projects down the road.
Mudbound is simply spellbinding. It is dark, but lovely. It’s like a ride that straps you in and takes you through a journey into the past and provides a history lesson you didn’t know you really needed. Furthermore, it shows that a soldier’s battlefields are often brought with them back home. For Ronsel, racism in his own community hurt him more than a Nazi bullet ever could. Not being accepted by his brother and father cut into Jamie’s heart more than any shrapnel. No movie that is the product of an online streaming service has ever won an Oscar for Best Picture, and even though it still may find itself as somewhat of a longshot for now, Mudbound is absolutely strong enough to become the first of its kind.
MATTER RATING: 9.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 9/10 (Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Song)
BY: CHRIS GUEST