TIFF17 | Mudbound Shares the Tale of a Racially Charged Post WWII Mississippi

Narration in film can often distract from the images on screen, explaining away the subtleties of a conversation or the context a pointed look can provide. But when it’s done right, narration can provide insight into the mind of a specific character, or in the case of Netflix’s Mudbound, into the mind of multiple characters.

Set during and just after WWII, Mudbound tells an emotional, tense and cathartic story of two distinct families in a Mississippi full of racism and anger. The McAllan’s move to Mississippi to run a farm they’ve just purchased, with the help of the Jackson family who work in the capacity as farm hands or in any other way Henry — the head of the McAllan family played by Jason Clarke—sees fit.

It’s with the return of both Henry’s younger brother played by Garrett Hedlund and the Jackson’s oldest son played Jason Mitchell, that the tension begins to bubble over. From the opening shot of the film, it’s understood that this is a world full of pain, resentment and unspoken anger. As lightning cracks across the sky and characters trek through fields of mud, it’s almost as if writer director Dee Rees is preparing the audience for the inevitable.

The performances in Mudbound are fantastic across the board, but I do have to point out the work of Mary J Blige as the matriarchal figure of the Jackson family. She brings a beleaguered sensitivity to her actions, that imply hope still lives within an environment and situation that would have broken lesser people. Along with Rob Morgan as Hap, her husband, I found the Jackson family to be far more intriguing than their counterparts.

This isn’t to say that McAllan performances aren’t great because they are. Carey Mulligan imbues her fish out of water character a sense of strength and beauty that was marvellous to watch. I also think Hedlund gives one of the most nuanced performances of his career as a man returning to a world that doesn’t understand the gravity of what millions of men suffered and died for, so families could live free from oppression.

This idea of fighting for freedom but returning to an environment full of oppression and racism is embodied by Mitchell’s character Ronsel. He’s given a line halfway through the film that addresses these concerns, having fought for the freedom of others to tell him to leave through the backdoor. It’s a powerful moment amongst a litany of thought provoking scenes.

It’s safe to say that Mudbound is a gorgeous looking film, with wide shots framing the Mississippi landscape in all it’s brutal beauty. Rees makes use of narration in a way that feels organic and not shoehorned the way other films tend to connect exposition to voiceover work. The brief flashbacks to wartime Germany are violent and revealing in the sense that it adds to context to the men returning home and why they feel the way they do.

By Devin Jones

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