Why Netflix’s “Mudbound” Is Better Than Great
Proceed with caution — Spoilers ahead
Director Dee Rees — who courted critics and legions of fans into submission with her semi-autobiographical gem — Pariah (2011) is back again with an even more seductively affecting entry that will be sure to garner her more than enough currency for her already impeccable portfolio.
Mudbound is the American love story that is seeped in the tragically-strewn themes that are remorsefully driven by the waterlogged elements of the deep South of the 1940s — that was entrenched in the culture and poetics of racial disharmony.
As an American — who didn’t grow up in America due to my Nigerian upbringing — I’ve always been fascinated by the great racial divide and how the practice of alienation through the politics of lawful segregation affected the organization of families across the nation.
My college days in Kansas City, Missouri during the nineties — provided an unfiltered glimpse into the tactfulness of relations between Whites and Blacks on campus as I was forced to accept the complexities of being able to observe through pragmatic lenses — based on my unique background.
This is probably why Mudbound appeals to my roving sensibilities in a simplistic and jarring way. The stunning offering from Netflix is based on the award-winning book of the same title by Hillary Jordan and the story centers around the majestic existence of two families that are thrown together by similar interests of land and war.
The White family comprises of the McAllans with actor Jason Clarke embodying the role of Henry McAllan — a forthright man and laborer with a sonofabitch father played with righteous authority by Jonathan Banks — who relishes any opportunity to apply the N-word without reservation. The younger brother Jamie (Garret Hedlund)is the more adventurous sibling with a charming disposition that manages to seduce the young and impressionable Laura (Carey Mulligan) — who ends up marrying Henry after sustaining her virginity past the age of thirty.
The Jacksons are black sharecroppers — with the unenviable task of tending to land they will never own — thanks to the hostile climate of the south that adheres to the Jim Crow laws. Hap, (Rob Morgan) is the head of the family and a preacher who wears his assigned fate like a weary badge as he patiently toils away for the support of his sizable brood. His wife Florence, played with distinction by Mary J. Blige is also fully aware of her station in life — and sports a dignified stance as she partners with her husband to ensure that daily life is consistently bearable.
Once Henry secures the farm — located on the Mississippi Delta — he proceeds to relocate his wife, two daughters and cranky “Pappy” to their new abode where they collide with the Jacksons in a way that plays out beneficially for both parties — to the crass dismay of the elder McAllan.
Laura is the ever-loving and dutiful wife who manages her household with radiant enthusiasm as she balances motherhood and the less-than stellar intimate sessions with her haplessly bland hubby. The lack of chemistry is even more glaring each time she locks eyes with her irresistible brother-in-law.
Her voiceover serves as the anchor of the film — as her words drips through the heavy air that hovers over the stoically chilly farmhouse — with the river of mud and road kill as comfort food.
“When I think of the farm, I think of mud. I dreamed in brown.”
Once World War II commences the lives of both families is catapulted into submission as Jamie enlists as a fighter pilot and the eldest child of the Jackson family — Ronsel, played by the impressive Jason Mitchell is also drafted in an all-black regiment where he eventually becomes a sergeant.
Both men end up bonding after their heroic return — but the difference in reception is noted by Ronsel — who suffers the heartache of realizing the scope of his insignificance — even after giving it all up for God and country.
Jamie turns to booze to ease the mental wounds of a war that cost him more than he is able to reconcile — and the only thing that sustains him is the bond he shares with Ronsel — which instantly turns into a verified brotherhood.
There are tender moments between Jamie and Laura that boldly illustrate that the ever-loyal wife definitely married the wrong brother. Florence is also unexpectedly drawn to Laura in a primal way as she swiftly comes to the young mother’s aid when her two daughters s are overwhelmed with the symptoms of whooping cough. Laura, notices and offers Florence the opportunity to earn steady pay as a member of her household.
The latter part of the film takes a very dark turn — as we finally get the full treatment of the Ku Klux Klan in all its regalia and a finality that gives the opening of the film the notoriety it deserves.
Mudbound isn’t just a great film — it’s spectacular.
Dee Rees not only understands the language of delivery, but also revels in the discipline she has perfected since her early days — which is the artful endeavor of releasing her characters from bondage.
Under her astute direction and the gorgeously morose cinematography — Rees manages to excite the senses with the deliriously muddy landscape and the propelled woes of the individuals who are jailed by their feisty surroundings.
Rees diligently showcases the griminess of an era that was captivating in its inherent potency of unbridled desperation and thuggish mannerisms that left a path of destruction in the souls that were devastated beyond reach.
It’s a quiet love song to the south that was and will always be — even in the dampened shadows of progress that still echo the trenches of mud slides that can’t ever bury the wandering spirits — that were also featured through the lenses of a master who enjoys the weightiness and privilege of her craft
Rees will undoubtedly make history during the upcoming award circuit — and as a Black woman yearning for moments like this — nothing could be more spectacular!