Sunday, November 19, 2017

'Mudbound' tells an epic story of race

Mudbound, the big-screen adaptation of a novel by Hillary Jordan, has had a limited theatrical release but is available to all Netflix subscribers. Director Dee Rees (Pariah) tells the story of two families, one white, one black -- both living in Mississippi before, during and just after World War II. The white family consists of Henry McCallan (Jason Clarke), a farmer who's forced onto a muddy, unproductive parcel of family land after a swindle destroys his dream of striking out on his own. Henry lives with his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and his kids. He's later joined by his brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), a dashing young man who becomes a pilot during the war and returns home as an emotionally wounded hero. The vile patriarch of the McCallan family (Jonathan Banks) spews his racism with the bitter snarl of a man expectorating spittle from tobacco juice. The movie's black family -- the Jacksons -- are tenant farmers living on McAllan land. Rob Morgan portrays Hap Jackson, a hard-working father who hopes someday to own his own piece of land. Mary J. Blige (in a finely controlled performance) portrays the mother of a family that includes a son (Jason Mitchell) who joins the Army when war breaks out. Not surprisingly, Mitchell's Ronsel returns to Mississippi to face the kind of racism he never experienced while serving in Europe. Rees allows each of the characters to deliver some of the movie's off-screen narration, sometimes bringing moments of poetic grace to the proceedings. It's not difficult to see where Rees's drama is heading once Jamie and Ronsel become friends, but the movie unfolds with stature and sorrow. A strong collection of vividly drawn characters carry Rees's epic American story to a conclusion in which pain can't entirely trample hope.

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