Dee Rees‘ Mudbound (Netflix, 11.17), a ’40s period piece about racial relations amid cotton farmers toiling in the hardscrabble South, is a heart movie. It’s about community values, hard work, compassion or a lack of, racial resentment on both sides and the eternal struggle to survive among the dirt-poor.
As such it bears more than a few resemblances to Robert Benton‘s Places In the Heart (’84). The Benton is far, far superior — better story, more skillfully written, more emotionally affecting. But three Mudbound performances — given by Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan — are quite special and almost redeeming.
Based on Hillary Jordan‘s 2008 novel, Mudbound (adapted by TV writer-producer Virgil Williams) is about the relations between the white McAllans, owners of a shithole cotton farm (no plumbing or electricity) in the muddy Mississippi delta, and their black tenant-farmer neighbors, the Jacksons, in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
The McAllans are composed of paterfamilias Henry McAllan (a sullen, beefy-looking Jason Clarke), his city-bred wife Laura (Mulligan), their two kids, Henry’s racist dad (Jonathan Banks) and Henry’s younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), who recently served as a bombardier during the war in Europe.
The Jackson principals are Hap (Rob Morgan), his wife Florence (Blige) and their oldest son Ronsel (Mitchell), also a recently returned WWII veteran.
Jamie and Ronsel relate to each other because of their similar age, shared war experience and not being as tied to regional racial traditions, and Laura is obviously a more refined and compassionate person than her somewhat grunty husband.
But the low-rent, under-educated delta atmosphere represses like a sonuvabitch, and from the moment the McAllans arrive you’re thinking “wait, I’m stuck in this hellish mudflat environment for the rest of the film?” You know how some films are so entrancing you find yourself almost wanting to move into them and live in their realm. Mudbound inspires thoughts of escape.
Yes, Mudbound has a heart and a soul and a compassionate view of things. But my mantra as I watched it was “lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here,” etc.