Oscar Week Film Review: Mudbound

Up for 4 Academy Awards, Mudbound is superb and director Dee Rees is entitled to feel cheated for her lack of recognition

“My hands did these things but I was never easy in my mind”

Dunkirk may have got the honours as the most-recognised WWII film this awards season but set in and around the same period, Mudbound knocks it out of the water for my money. Based on the 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan and adapted by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams, it’s a beautifully evocative and epic piece of storytelling – directed with heart and skill by Rees – that marks it way above any preconceptions you might have about it being a Netflix release.

Set in the Deep South of Jim Crow and horrific racial violence, this sweeping story encompasses the fortunes of two families – the McAllans and the Jackson, one white and one black, one landowners and one farm labourers but crucially, both with a son who serves in the Second World War. And through the many ways in which their lives intertwine, particularly around their children, it is the connection between these two vets that proves to be the most momentous.

For the social progress that saw African Americans being able to serve in the military and bypass a large part of the prejudice rooted in the US was wiped away upon their return home. And Rees shies away from none of the pernicious nastiness of this racism, nor its impact. In the stark beauty of Rachel Morrison’s  cinematography (rightfully nominated for an Oscar), the brutality of the land is inescapable.

And for all the novelistic complexity of the narrative – the film switches between the viewpoints of six key characters – it is far from depressing. The camaraderie between the lads (Jason Mitchell and Garret Hedlund) is gorgeous and funny (the piss in a helmet story is a corker) and the slow-building respect that grows between Carey Mulligan’s Laura and Mary J Blige’s scorchingly good Florence is another deeply moving connection.

 

Photograph: Steve Dietl/AP

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