By: Nikolai Robinson
Once you’re finished binging Stranger Things or Mindhunter, add what is easily one of the most powerful films of the year to your Netflix queue. Mudbound, which will be available for streaming on Netflix on November 17, tells the story of two young men, one black and one white, who are drafted into World War II. The story follows them as they return from the war and form a friendship as they struggle to reenter small-town American life, suffer from PTSD, and endure racism.
Henry and Laura McAllan (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) decide to relocate their family, including Henry’s overtly racist elderly father (Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks) to a cotton farm in Mississippi. The Jackson family, which includes Pappy and Florence (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige), and their four children, also live on this farm as tenant farmers. Henry’s younger brother, Jamie (Tron: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund), and the eldest Jackson son, Ronsel (Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell) are both drafted into World War II, albeit in different divisions.
The first half of the film focuses on the tensions between these two families after their sons have left for war, highlighting both the overt and subtle racism from the white male characters. This portion especially showcases the acting talents of Mulligan and Blige, who play the matriarchs that learn to depend on each other despite the tension between their husbands. It’s admittedly slow, but it’s a fascinating buildup to what happens when the two soldiers return to their families.
Without giving too much away, Jamie and Ronsel return from the war having experienced a little good and a whole lot of bad. The two meet after Jamie publicly displays signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and they form a friendship based on their past experiences despite their family ties. It is these moments between the two former soldiers that truly pose the big questions the movie is going after- How is it that a black soldier can go through so much for his country and return to the same hate and prejudice he left? Why is America so fixated on race and bigotry during a time that especially requires them to unite? Hedlund and Mitchell display a lot of brotherly chemistry on top of the deep emotional anguish their individual characters are experiencing because of PTSD and the familial and societal pressures.
Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, this film doesn’t shy away from exposing the hypocrisy and extremity of racism in the rural south. Its timeliness and relevance makes it feel just as much a criticism of today’s America as it is of post-war 1940s America. Yet, it doesn’t feel preachy or overly sentimental, unlike other mainstream films that have portrayed this theme. Director Dee Rees expertly handles this complex topic through the talent of her top-notch cast and subtly powerful imagery of farm life, poverty, suffering, and violence. It’s depressing and disheartening at times, but overall an inspiring and well-told story that will surely end up on numerous end-of-the-year lists.
4 OUT OF 5 STARS