His son, Henry (Jason Clarke) and wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan), who’ve just moved to a 200-acre farm in the Mississippi Delta with their kids and Pappy in tow, seem to have little issue with the black family who work the land.
In fact, they seem even to take a liking to the Jacksons, hiring Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) as a nanny and providing her husband, Hap (Rob Morgan) with a doctor when he takes a fall.
Henry’s handsome and charming brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) has just returned from WWII, and has taken to the whisky bottle to sooth his mental scars. Also back is Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) who quite enjoyed his time in Europe and even found love there.
The two ex-soldiers get close, bonding over war stories and their newfound purposelessness. But, for the local residents and particularly Pappy, they get too close and soon all that latent racism becomes blatant, rising to the surface like mud in a freshly-tilled field.
Mudbound crescendos to a devastating, perhaps inevitable, conclusion but the fact that it takes its time to get to there is truly special. The film doesn’t go in for the relentless sledgehammer blows that have come characterise previous epic films about US race relations, such as Detroit or 12 Years A Slave.
These are punctuated by acts of stomach-turning violence that certainly were (and are) tragically central to the black experience in America, but they are often reproduced to shock, trying to recreate the effect of something like 70s TV show Roots (remade last year by the BBC).
In Mudbound, the most shocking moments also take place outside the farm in Mississippi – the nerve-wracking recollections of gory scenes of war.
Violence edges in to the movie’s (perhaps a little too) broad historical lens but the focus is on the lasting injustice and idiocy that people living in the same place, working on the same land, often eating the same food, fighting in the same wars, and by all other accounts, the same, should be persecuted for the colour of their skin.
Mudbound is adapted from the best-selling book by Hillary Jordan, and the film is not embarrassed by its literary roots. It’s unhurried rather than slow, giving all the main characters an occasional voiceover moment offering us an insight into their pasts. The subplots are given room to breath so that no one comes across as a caricature, even old man Pappy.
Of course, writer-director Dee Rees and the cast’s moving performances – all very, very strong, particularly the two war-weary young men – help all this to hit home. It’s nice to see Carey Mulligan back on screen as well.
It is, all in all, intelligent stuff which neither feels too wrapped in its main subject nor too detached; shedding light on that most persistent of American issues that the country, and many others, are still mired in.
Mudbound is available on Netflix.
|What||Mudbound film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
17 Nov 17 – 26 Apr 19, AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|