Mudbound aims to tell an epic tale of racial tension in the 1940s Mississippi Delta, and it is an engaging – if emotionally battering – one. The film struggles, however, not to sink under its own weight. There’s no pontificating per se, but Mudbound certainly wallows in the misery of its characters, their unrelentingly difficult lives and the inescapable mud a little too much.
The crux of the story is an interracial friendship between two World War Two veterans returning to small-town farm life and their families – one damaged, and one freed, by their respective experiences. Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, its switching of characters and viewpoints is understandable – but the inclusion of a world-weary narration from each is less so. A tiresome narrative tool that rarely works, it’s often used as a way to skimp on character development – and it’s especially trying when the delivery uniformly makes it sound as if they’ve swallowed gravel.
Within this bleak, backwards bubble reside many ugly characters. The overwrought circumstances make it difficult to wholeheartedly empathise with the majority of the cast, and the sense of foreboding surrounding those few for whom you do feel is difficult to escape. Jonathan Banks is transformed here from his usually sympathetic role in the Breaking Bad universe to a hateful, ungrateful bigot. Mary J. Blige, on the other hand, effortlessly handles the role of an almost saintly woman in a warm and natural way, forgoing any sense of martyrdom that could develop.
It’s well-made, well-shot and well-cast, just slightly turgid in its approach, which results in turning the viewer off rather than engaging with their emotions and sense of justice throughout. Its two-hour 15-minute running time also doesn’t exactly skip by unnoticed. A worthy team effort, however.
CAST: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan.
DIRECTOR: Dee Rees
WRITERS: Virgil Williams, Dee Rees (screenplay), Hillary Jordan (novel)
SYNOPSIS: Two families live in a delicate – if unhappy – harmony in rural 1940s Mississippi. When their respective sons return home from World War Two, tensions rise as the young men struggle to deal with adjusting to life after war in an unforgiving, unyielding community.