Director: Dee Rees
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell
Words: Christian Abbott
There is a moment in Mudbound, one that would seem impossible for the post-war Mississippi setting, in which a friendship is born.
One man is black and the other white; the two find mutual understanding through trauma. It is trauma that is ever present in Dee Rees masterful exploration of prejudice, hate, heroism and life in a time that seemed unliveable.
This adaption of the Hillary Jordan novel is a sweeping multi-character study. Inner monologues bleed over the narrative, reminiscing on a time best forgotten to them, but an ever present warning to us. There isn’t a set voice to follow, rather, several characters coming forward to offer their perspective. This is a choice that would often not work, but this is a vast story to unfold and the balance in opposing voices offer a more dynamic view.
In the first third, time and place jumps around often, seemingly unconnected, but through Rees’ direction the various plot points slowly coalesce into one emotionally harrowing finale. A strong theme of the narrative is how the times may change but people stay the same – the landscape of the modern world may be profoundly different, but this small slice of history should never be forgotten.
The world we are brought back to is one of division and struggle. Racism still permeates the culture of the land here but this isn’t background storytelling.
The film follows two families living on neighbouring farms, one black and the other white. The families share much in common, a member of each going to war, but it is their differences which are made stark.
What is surprising is how this isn’t all just melodrama, the characters are all one’s we have seen before but it is all written so well that they are truly their own. Scenes of war in land and sky help to break the plot up, keeping it from devolving into relentless emotional turmoil. The filmmaking overall is outstanding, brilliant visuals elevate what is already one of the best movies of the year.
Often at times this is a hard watch, sometimes looking back at how we once allowed things to be is hard, but it is necessary.
Also, it is the little moments that make this such a memorable experience, the scenes of quiet conversation that don’t advance the plot make these characters come alive.
It’s the little details that remind us that we are all human, equally.