Based on the eponymous novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound focuses on two families – one black (the Jacksons), one white (the McAllans) – in rural Mississippi during pre and post-WWII. While both families experience hardships, things only worsen when Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) return home from the conflict in Germany.
While director Dee Rees and co-screenwriter Virgil Williams effectively build the depth of the characters to ensure each one tells their story, the numerous, slow-building flashbacks do not help rationalise the elaborate narrative. There are also several emotional subplots involving Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) that end up being brushed aside, so they fail to deliver the same emotional impact as the film’s main plot element.
In addition, some of the characters come across as stereotypical. The women are reduced to being housewives while older roles such as Henry’s racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) and the workaholic Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) are portrayed as old-fashioned and stubborn. Even though they represent characters that are easy to relate to, they don’t break boundaries in character development and make the story occasionally predictable and frustrating.
However, the ensemble cast delivers emotionally charged performances throughout the film, and each actor has a chance to shine. Yet, it is the sweet chemistry between Hedlund and Mitchell that saves the film, as their characters share a camaraderie that feels unique and familiar at the same time.
The characters’ voiceovers provide a hidden insight to their respective struggles, which prevent the film from being a one-dimensional period piece. In addition, Rees’ direction is vivid with colour and cinematographer Rachel Morrison builds up complexities through her clever camerawork, whether it is the relaxed chemistry between Ronsel and Jamie, or the vast, empty fields of rural Mississippi.
Overall, Mudbound has a strong social message at its core and a wonderful cast to deliver it. But at 131 minutes, it just takes them a little too long to get there.
Director: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan
Runtime: 131 minutes