Susan Granger’s review of “Mudbound” (Netflix)
In this timeless and timely epic melodrama, two families – one black and one white – bound together by the desolate Mississippi Delta farmland, reflect Jim Crow racism in the 1940s American South.
The Jacksons are a close-knit African-American family of poor, sharecropping tenants, living next to Laura (Carey Mulligan) and Henry (Jason Clarke) McAllan, the ambitious, yet incompetent new land owners who just moved from Memphis, Tennessee, with their two young daughters and Henry’s vile, ornery Pappy (Jonathan Banks).
Unprepared for the squalor and primitive harshness of rural life, along with the incessant rainfall, the McAllans are struggling to survive, something they can only do with the help of Florence (Mary J. Blige) and Hap (Rob Morgan) Jackson.
As stoic Florence says when she’s summoned from caring for her injured husband to tend Laura’s sick children: “Love is a kind of survival.”
The plot pivots on the uneasy friendship forged between Florence’s eldest son and Laura’s roguish brother-in-law, both W.W.II combat veterans. While fighting in Europe under Gen. Patton, Sgt. Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) experienced freedom and respect for the first time, falling in love with a Caucasian woman, while Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund), a fighter pilot, drowns his PTSD in whiskey.
Their natural camaraderie breaks the rules about racial separation, which infuriates Henry’s sinister, virulently prejudiced Pappy.
Based on Hillary Jordan’s somewhat autobiographical 2008 best-seller, it’s adapted by Virgil Williams and director Dee Rees, utilizing a parallel subplot structure that alternates among six points-of-view on race and class, augmented by Rachel Morrison’s sublime cinematography and Tamar-kali’s effective musical score.
Insofar as ‘white privilege’ is concerned, Dee Rees notes, “Unless you investigate what you inherit in terms of ideas, attitudes and thoughts about the world, how can you be mindful about what you’re passing on?”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mudbound” is an unflinching, admirable 8, particularly relevant now that white supremacy is back in the forefront of public consciousness.