Mudbound (2017)

If Mudbound doesn’t instantly become the top Netflix Original Movie, it’s right up there. Here is a movie that so details its setting and its characters so richly that it makes you feel a whole bunch of things over its duration, forces you to remember things about American history you’d rather forget, and will probably cause you to parallel them to the world in which we live today. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a very good one.

The film takes place primarily on a chunk of farmland that gets purchased early on by Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke). He moves here with his wife (Carey Mulligan), father (Jonathan Banks), and kids. On the farm are tenants. They’re black. Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan), his wife (Mary J. Bilge), and their kids live in a smaller house and have a portion of land that’s theirs to farm – although they’re only renting. Hap’s family has lived on this farm for several generations – first as slaves, now as tenants. He hopes to someday own it. We’re now in WW2. Both families have a (grown) child in the war.

The first half or so of Mudbound details the day-to-day lives of these people. We get a decent idea of their feelings toward each other, how they’re treated by others, and so on. The film does a very good job of establishing its characters, how they’re feeling, and their motivations. Maybe to the point of excess. There’s a lot of narration, whose perspective continually shifts, in the first half, and it’s a bit much. It slows the pace down a bit and extends the length. While Mudbound is never boring, it could probably lose 10 minutes and a bit of its narration.

The second half is when it really picks up. The two sons in the war return and we get to see how people react to this, largely through their eyes. There are some narrative twists and turns, a couple of shocking moments, more than one emotional scene, and it becomes a fantastic movie. It was good before, and most of that setup is necessary for its second half to pay off – but it becomes so, so good after the halfway point.

Mudbound is a wonderful movie and, if you have Netflix, you need to watch it.

Mudbound primarily goes after two subjects: racism and PTSD. It does both very well. Watching the responses to the two soldiers, as well as the treatment of the Jackson family from the outset – particularly from Henry’s father – hammers this home. The PTSD is a less frequent topic, but it still rears its head every now and then and is tough to watch. The two soldiers befriend each other, much to the chagrin of at least one of the families, and together they experience both of these. It’s not easy to watch.

The acting is great. I don’t know if there are any standout performances or any that are weaker. Certain characters get more to do, sure, but all of the performances are fantastic. Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund play the returning soldiers, and are tremendous. Jonathan Banks will make you hate him with such a passion. Jason Clarke and Rob Morgan are good as the family men, while Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan are strong as their wives. Mulligan gets first billing in the movie despite having some of the least screen time and character, because she’s the biggest name, I guess.

Mudbound is a wonderful movie and, if you have Netflix, you need to watch it. It took a while, but the streaming service has finally started distributing quality movies and not just television shows. Mudbound immediately jumps either to the top or near the top of the pile. It has strong characters, engaging themes that are both interesting and topical, fantastic acting, and tells an engaging story. If it has a weakness, it’s that it’s a little slow in its first half. That only hampers it a touch. It is great.

Conclusion: Mudbound is a tremendous movie.

Recommendation: If you have Netflix, watch Mudbound.

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