ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No. 13: Mudbound

Year: 2017

Runtime: 134 minutes

Director: Dee Rees

Writer: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams

Stars: Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Garret Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige

By Daniel Richeson

The greatest achievement of Netflix is giving creators a place to put their work. From Martin Scorsese to Ava DeVernay, Netflix has become a creative landing for directors and writers to display their work without the hassle of going through the tired Hollywood process. Dee Rees got to do just that with her second feature “Mudbound” as a Netflix original movie. After her debut “Pariah”, which also earned a spot on our Top 50 List, Rees proved her worth and had a much larger market to sell her idea in. It premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was released in November of 2017, which put it squarely in the Oscars award season. Not that it needed help being premiered at the end of the year, but it helped to gain it four nominations, including two for Mary J. Blige who created an original song for the film.

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Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell in “Mudbound” (2017) (IMDB)

“Mudbound” follows the story of two World War II veterans coming home to their Mississippi family farm amidst hardship and struggle. The white soldier Jamie McAllan (Garret Hedlund) suffers from PTSD and uses alcohol to treat himself since there is no recognition of mental health in those days, what he suffers is merely seen as being weak by the older generation. His brother Henry (Jason Clarke) bought a large piece of property and a farm to move his whole family to only to arrive and find out he had been swindled out of the house and instead bought the farm which was mostly just mud.

What She Said:

“Mudbound is the work of a filmmaker whose vision is uninhibited. Even when it falters through later narrative twists that become almost too much to bear, it’s a captivating experience-one that we’re lucky exists.”

Aisha Harris, Slate

The other soldier, a black man, Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), is the son of the man who rents land from the McAllan’s now, and he returns home to the bigoted, racist country that shows its true colors even to a veteran. Ronsel found love and acceptance in Germany where he was fighting as a Tank commander in a German woman who he falls in love with during his deployment. He laments returning to the states as his skin color causes him to be treated as some lower life form.

His first interaction with southern racism is when he attempts to pass by “Pappy” McAllan (Jonathan Banks), Henry and Jamie’s father, through the front door. Pappy stops him and informs him that he is to use the back door. A menial show of power and Ronsel is even dressed in his uniform. Ronsel defends himself and makes a point to say he was fighting for their freedom as they slept safely in their beds. This becomes the beginning of troubles in this small Mississippi town.

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Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell in “Mudbound” (2017) (IMDB)

Ronsel and Jamie develop a friendship as each man’s family experiences tragedy and all while the tension of Pappy towards his sons and Ronsel escalates with each passing day. Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan), Ronsel’s father, is renting land from Henry in an attempt to own a farm with his wife, Florence (Blige). Ronsel and his sons work on the farm that Henry owns and there doesn’t seem to be a success in any meaningful way.

What She Said:

“While it occasionally threatens to get away from itself with its numerous subplots, Dee Rees’s controlled direction gives Mudbound a focused narrative trajectory. “

Katie Goh, Another Gaze

One of Hap’s mules has to be put down and Henry forces Ronsel to rent the other mule instead of just letting him use it as it would benefit both men. Shortly thereafter, Hap suffers a broken leg from a fall from a ladder and is unable to work the fields. Laura (Carey Mulligan), Henry’s wife, takes pity on the Jacksons since Florence has had to become the McAllan’s maid/nanny to provide in her husband’s time in bed. Laura takes some money from Henry to pay for a doctor to come and fix Hap’s leg so he can begin to heal. Henry finds out and their marriage becomes more passionless than before as he basically begins to ignore her in all matters.

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Carey Mulligan in “Mudbound” (2017) (IMDB)

The film takes long stretches to show the current conflict between its ensemble of characters while also flashing back to Ronsel and Jamie’s time in the war. Rees takes on the task of shining lights on each family and their interactions within and outside their homes. Laura has a shy affection for Jamie. Hap and Florence talk about owning their own land. Henry and Laura argue over whether or not he actually told her something usually ending in his storm off. The main interaction though is between the two leads, Jamie and Ronsel discuss the racial tension of the country and why Jamie is crossing the race line to befriend a black man. They also bond over their shared experience in the war and losing friends.

What She Said:

“Mudbound is a modern American tragedy where none of the characters escape unscathed, and no good deed goes unpunished.”

Di Golding, Dear Cast and Crew

The title Mudbound really tells the story of this movie. The world is muddy. Everyone is dirty when it comes to societal issues. Racism in America is such a large part of our collective history and has affected every person living since it’s birth. White people have seen racism out in public and behind closed doors. Does our silence condone these actions? A few times in this film Henry seems to be peacekeeping between Pappy and Ronsel or Hap, and it’s unclear if he’s an active racist. But he definitely enables and is guilty of racist actions. Jamie is actively trying to be a better person but is oblivious to the harm he may cause just by trying to befriend Ronsel. Jamie has good intentions but the small town and his father muddy up the attempt.

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Garrett Hedlund, Dee Rees, and Jason Mitchell in “Mudbound” (2017) (IMDB)

Rees lets the Jackson family live on screen for long periods of time to make the audience truly develop an affection for the troubles they have to endure. The viewer witnesses Henry’s justifications as to save his family with little regard to the amount of help the Jackson’s have given him. Pride drives the men in this film and their supposed responsibility to provide and protect their families. This, as is seen in history, drives them to destruction. Whether honorably or not, the actions of men lead to these violent instances of culture clash.

Dee Rees certainly delivered yet another classic and “Mudbound” is highly regarded universally. She’s already been nominated for an Academy Award and a Primetime Emmy as well as multiple other awards.

The Extra Bits:

Where to Watch:

Stream Exclusively on Netflix

Who to Follow:

Official Mudbound: Twitter

 

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