Dee Rees, director of Pariah and Bessie, packs a lot into her adaptation (co-written with Virgil Williams) of Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound.
The film follows two Mississippi families during and after World War II. The first family we’re introduced to is the McAllans. Henry (Jason Clarke) moves his wife (Carey Mulligan), daughters and father (Jonathan Banks) to a farm house while his brother (Garret Hedlund) is off to fight in the war. The crops on the farm are tended to by the Jackson family. Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) have just sent their eldest son (Jason Mitchell) to fight as a sergeant in the tank division.
The first portion of the movie depicts the multiple ways each family member left in Mississippi deal with having to redefine what happiness is to them. This is the portion of the movie that will truly resonate with people. Rees makes sure that the ups and downs of both families are felt equally while still reminding the audience that the McAllans, due to the time period, are still able to make the Jacksons’ life worse. I appreciated the subtlety applied to scenes of Henry needing to exercise some form of power by visiting the Jacksons. The scenes didn’t require overt racism with name calling or violence but the power imbalance was palpable in a way that many people may experience even today.
The overt racism and violence makes its way into the movie in full force by the time both soldiers are back from the war and the movie shifts to a story about how two men can look beyond the colour of their skin and find friendship based on a shared experience. Hedlund and Mitchell do a great job of convincing you that their characters aren’t even understood by their families, and thus, can only open up to each other.
Dee Rees has delivered a thoughtful, harsh, but, overall beautiful story about family, friendship, and race relations that’s sure to stick with audiences for awhile.