Mississippi in the 1940s appears to be made entirely of mud. Sticky, brown muck that clings to everything it touches, sullying it and bring it down to earth – literally – under a low, grey sky. Netflix’s Mudbound is a tale told by multiple narrators under that sky heard in voiceover throughout the film. I love a narrator because the burden of exposition is off the screen and it allows the visual to develop without having to tell us every single thing. And, as good as Mudbound is at telling us the story of its six main characters, it could have been a remarkable limited series if given 6 hours to develop them instead of two.
Mudbound is a story of two families, both struggling to keep their heads above that mud and make their way. Carey Mulligan‘s Laura is a woman of refined tastes married to a dull man (Jason Clarke) with a racist father and dashing brother (Garrett Hedlund doing his best Val-Kilmer-as-Doc-Holliday. I kept expecting him to offer to be my huckleberry.) who end up on the muddiest patch of “farmland” in the state.
The other family occupying the farm is black and, as such in the Jim Crow South, is treated with disdain and superiority by nearly everyone except Laura. Mary J. Blige‘s matriarch Florence is tough and tender helping Laura nurse her daughters through a bout of whooping cough. When she’s offered a job as a housekeeper in the house, Florence and her husband privately balk because there’s a difference between farming the same land and working in the landowner’s house. Their own son is off fighting in WWII too, where he is being treated, at least by some, as a hero. When these two sons of the South return home both bruised and battle weary, they strike a natural, yet uneasy friendship.
This movie has a laconic pace though, and nothing really moves fast – including the brutal beatings scenes when the klan comes to teach our young war heroes a lesson about who they think should be friends with who. It’s dreadful and
very nearly unwatchable. Fair warning.
Really, really short review: Dramatic, powerful storytelling that could have been truly great.
*Mary J. Blige is now also a Golden Globe nominee for her performance.