Mudbound Review – Exceptional Character Driven Performances; A Triumph

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Mudbound, an original film from Netflix, presents a shocking tale of life in the 1940’s deep South as two WWII heroes, one white, one black, come home to face the evil, insidious, hatred of Jim Crow Mississippi.

Co-written and directed by Dee Rees, Mudbound stars Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Kerry Cahill, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Elizabeth Windley, Piper Blair, and Geraldine Singer. Mudbound was written by Rees and Virgil Williams based on the novel by Hillary Jordan.

Mudbound opens as Jamie McAllan, played by Garrett Hedlund, is digging a ditch, surrounded by rich black earth, his brother, Henry, played by Jason Clarke, is at the top of the now nearly four feet deep hole, when Henry finds a pair of shackles and soon after a skull, with a single clean bullet bearing the scar of his death.

Believing they have stumbled on the grave of a slave Henry protests as the ominous clouds grow darker with claps of booming thunder and flashes of lightening zigzagging from the darkened sky. He stops, telling his brother, Jamie, he won’t allow his father to be "buried in the grave of a slave."

Henry sees his neighbor, Hap Jackson, played by Rob Morgan, and his wife Florence, played by Mary J. Blige, and stops him telling him they need him bury his father.


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They didn’t have much choice, and Jamie jumped back into the grave, finishing up when the rains started, a deluge of heavy, pounding, flooding, drowning water. Trying to escape what could easily become a death trap, the mud is too slippery and he can’t pull himself up out of the grave, and Henry, suddenly gone, the panic sets in.

Burying their father was not their plan today, as Jamie a decorated World War II Captain had just returned from the horrors of the allied fight to end Hitler’s occupation, which we don’t find out until later, now our story flashes back to the beginning in voice over by Laura McAllan, played by Carey Mulligan.

She describes herself, as somehow managing at 31, to have maintained her virginity. A  Christian, educated teacher Laura lives with her parents and is according to her belief, plain without options.  

On the night we meet her, she and her family have invited her brother’s new boss, Henry McAllan for dinner. Laura’s mother, played by Geraldine Singer, was determined to make the match, and suggested Laura entertain them and play a few hymns on the piano. Henry is immediately smitten and Laura is without options an dwell he was nice.

After two years and two children, later It is December 7, 1941. Americans from all parts of one nation are gathered around the radio listening as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, explains "December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy." Jamie signs on; and a neighboring son Ronsel, played by Jason Mitchell, also signs on. The two men, one black, one white, leave for the War.  

One night in bed Henry explains they are moving to a farm in the South. He’s already handled the details and his Pappy, played by Jonathan Banks, will be living with them.

Suddenly married life wasn’t so easy. Soon she, Henry, Pappy, and her girls, played by Elizabeth Windley and Piper Blair, arrive at the beautiful, white house, a smaller version of deep south Plantation. Running to the door, the family opened the door to find some man standing at the door explaining he bought this house from the man they rented it from last week and to get off his property.

"You got swindled," Pappy told him and suddenly the dreams of better were lying in ruins. Henry told them about the small house on the outskirts of the property and suddenly he and his family were living in a deserted sharecroppers shack.

This is Mississippi 1941. And this is where the story of Mudbound shifts. Life for the emancipated negro in Jim Crow south is slightly more free than slavery.

The negro now has a few "rights," greeted by racism, segregation and generational hatred, deep as the roots on any of the Magnolia trees that offer shade. He has the "right" to enter and exit through the back door, the "right" to drink from the colored only water fountain and the "right," war hero or not, to ride at the back of the bus.


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For our McAllan family, now surrounded by dirt, mud and such a evil that has drawn a trench through the mind of the people, they are also surrounded by a colored family, The Jackson’s, whom Henry has acquired with the house.

Florence Jackson, her husband, Hap Jackson, received the 200 acres and worked tirelessly six days a week and Hap preached to a small congregation on Sunday and prayed for the safe return of their son, Ronsel.

Mudbound is a riveting film. A story not of slavery and yet of slavery. It is slavery of the mind, in which the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacists groups, live.  The rise of the segregated south, the Jim Crow south, insidious, evil hatred, of lynching’s and a belief that one will be rewarded with every negro murdered.

The cast of characters, brought to life by such a rich ensemble of talent, were mesmerizing. There was not a single moment that was not believable or genuine.

The story is a gripping tale of a separate but equal life: A white and a black life: of poverty and hate; of liberation and shackles, the duality of life in the Delta.

It is an attention grabbing, absorbing mystery. The Director, Dee Rees, was clear as she explained the story is not easy.

The opening Gala screening at the recent AFI Film Festival presnted by Audi, Mudbound wowed the house with its chilling and truthful portrayal.

Mudbound, a disturbing, traumatic, and dynamic must see film, opens in theaters and own Netflix November 17, 2017. See It.

 

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