Mudbound review – powerful tale set in Jim Crow America has real sinew

Dee Rees’s rich, absorbing story set in pre- and postwar Mississippi and based on Hillary Jordan’s novel is beautifully directed and performed

There’s a rich, arterial force in this film’s storytelling: director Dee Rees handles the material with flair and real passion. It’s a big, powerful, generational story culminating in tragedy and violence, based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, all about Jim Crow America and the changes beginning to happen after young men of all races and classes returned from the second world war to find a home unfit for heroes and riddled with the same old bigoted attitudes from which the horrors of warfare had, briefly and ironically, freed them.

Jason Clarke and Garrett Hedlund play brothers Henry and Jamie; Carey Mulligan plays Laura, a beautiful, unworldly woman who marries Henry, charmed by his shy courtesy but also secretly entranced by Jamie’s dashing romantic charm. Yet all these good qualities seem knocked out of the brothers when they have to work on the grim farm in the Mississippi mud belonging to their grotesquely racist father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks).

Their tenants on this property are a black family, led by a lay preacher, Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his smart son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). Ronsel and Jamie go off to war after Pearl Harbor and when they return, traumatised and lonely, they have a bond of friendship and respect that transcends race. These men begin a clandestine friendship, platonic yet almost like an extramarital affair, which involves Ronsel ducking down in the passenger seat of Jamie’s pickup when some of the glowering rednecks might see. It leads to a moment of horror, yet also to a strange kind of release. Mudbound is absorbing: the language, performance and direction all have real sinew.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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