Misery and magic are at work in “Mudbound.” The last 40 minutes of Dee Rees’ third film are some of the best seen onscreen this year. That’s a loaded statement, but this is a film embedded with relevant historical subtext sure to spark conversation and attention from the highest of Hollywood orders. Rees, who adapted the material with Virgil Williams from the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, handles the final act’s escalation of unfiltered discomfort tremendously. Whether or not audiences can handle it is irrelevant, because the sequence’s impact speaks to Rees’ abilities as a director.
Rees and Williams produce some of their best work yet with this period drama about two neighboring families engaged in socioeconomic and racial tensions set against the backdrop of post-World War II, Jim Crow Mississippi. Sporadically narrated with multi-character voice-overs, the film begins and ends with a burial. By the time it’s revealed whose it is, the film surprises and shocks with an honesty that alters every preconceived notion about the resolution.
Henry and Laura McAllan (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) move to rural Mississippi not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The McAllan’s are a product of their time, a white family not interested in their neighbors down the road, the Jackson’s (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige), except when they need help moving furniture or curing their daughters of whooping cough. The Jackson’s remain hopeful their work will produce positive outcomes and change for their children, including their oldest, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who goes off to and returns safely from war only to find the treatment he receives at home is worse than how he was viewed overseas.
The most jarring scene in the film comes as the blow to the escalating intensity of the racism seen from the film’s beginning. There’s a reason a handful of people walked out of the theater, but the loss was theirs. Every remark, every act of judgement is nothing compared to what I felt was coming, but never fathomed a film would be bold enough to portray without dodging its own brutality.
Written by Emilie Kefalas.