Last issue we reviewed The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), this week we are looking at Mudbound, but what do these two films have in common? They are both very different, set in two contrasting centuries, and center around dissimilar families. The answer is Netflix. Both extraordinary productions will be available on the streaming service.
Netflix made its presence known at the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, showing that they are ready to be taken seriously with a plethora of outstanding movies, Mudbound was no exception. Primarily taking place after World War II, the premise focuses on two conflicting families residing on the same farm: the Caucasian owners and the African American workers. The interesting and rather depressing fact we discover is that despite slavery’s abolishment over fifty years prior, black families are still taken advantage of and victimized. Therefore, what should be a working relationship ends up feeling extraordinarily one-sided. This is a time period not often explored on film. Slavery is over, yet the full implementation of segregation causes things to stay disturbingly similar.
Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) is the farm’s enthusiastic new owner, his wife Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan), however, is much less thrilled about having to move her two children to a decrepit, old farmhouse with her grumpy and rather racist father in-law. Soon they meet Hap and Florence Jackson (played by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, respectively), and their children. The tension between the two households is instantly palpable, with Henry hammering on the Jacksons’ door demanding Hap immediately help them move their furnishings into their new home. Despite their differences, the two families discover they have something in common: a family member who is served in the war. Henry McAllan’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) served in the air force while Hap Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) drove a tank, not only that, these two young men return home around the same time.
As any veteran can tell you, the horrors of war stay with soldiers for a lifetime, and the two men portrayed in Mudbound are no different. They return proud but a shell of the people they once were when they departed. The pair soon strike up a friendship, one they are forced to hide, as the racial tensions rise between the two families. Ronsel, who was treated like a hero during the war, returns home to find that the locals only see the color of his skin, completely bypassing his valor. Stress is placed on both families while they try and prepare for harvest season amidst their own personal issues, and, before long, dastardly action is taken.
The cinematography is striking, from the pouring rainfall mingling with the slimy mud to the dry, almost inhospitable looking farmland, director Dee Rees does an incredible job of setting the tone, so much so that the movie may even be worth seeing in theaters, even though it hits Netflix the same day. Not only is Mudbound a visually striking film, it is also an emotional one. The friendship between two heroes and the fight for survival had amongst two families is both harrowing and touching to witness.
Mary J. Blige spoke about how she became involved with the film. “I was approached by Dee Rees through my agency with the script, and I was already a big fan of Dee Rees and her work. I was already in from the gate and then I read the script and saw how powerful it was. The character Florence is my family and Florence is a lot of women, women who love their family. I was really interested in the film because of the amazing script that Dee wrote.”
Director Dee Rees had this to say on working with Rachel Morrison (Cinematographer) on the look of the film. “Rachel was amazing. I wanted her because I had seen her work on Fruitvale Station and Dope. I wanted to work with her because I wanted this feeling of realism. Rachel was very thoughtful in the photography of the film. We really wanted the pallet of the film to fit the period and I knew she would be great at that. She was able to give these old Panavision C series lenses, so we put this old glass on a digital medium, which then makes it feel of the time. The pallet is really kind of desaturated. She really made it not feel like history but present, like this living photographic, national memory in a way.”
Netflix has shown the world that it is ready to compete for an Academy Award with these superbly crafted movies. Mudbound will release on November 17th both on the streaming service and in theaters.
Photos by Dean Moses