NYFF Film Review: ‘Mudbound’ Is an Intense Portrait of Brutal Importance

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2017 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: With a conventional story of friendship and racial inequality, “Mudbound” is a visually poetic experience and reaffirms the genius that was shown in Dee Rees‘ inaugural narrative “Pariah” six years ago.  Rees, in partnership with co-writer Virgil Williams, both have a lyrical storytelling style that is both delicate and slow-burning.  It blindsides you as its richly woven tale examines the love and desperation of two soldiers, intertangled in a web of fate as they both try to rid their darkest memories.

Mudbound,” tells the story of two men, Jamie (played by Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (played by Jason Mitchell), who return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi.  There, they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after the war.

Honestly and rapturously shot, Dee Rees’ vigorous direction is remarkably crafted.  Rees’ dark, storybook aura engages the viewer in a visual texture of subtle details.  It’s deliberate as its haunting and striking qualities show glimpses of past films like “Mississippi Burning” or “The Heat of the Night.”  This all in great association with cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who lights and frames the melodrama in a timeless fashion, is utterly compelling.  Despite its small, low-budget creation, its superb construction of an American story seems remarkably muscular.

You walk away with each of the central characters resting firmly on your mind.  Jason Mitchell is astounding as the calm yet broken Ronsel.  Already asserting himself as one of the brightest newcomers in “Straight Outta Compton” in 2015, Mitchell is meticulous in his creation of a man resisting the urge to cave.

The film also births Garrett Hedlund as a staple in our Hollywood machine.  “On the Road” showed his potential but he has now fully realized it as his emotionally charged and frighteningly exceptional work stands as his best work yet.

Carey Mulligan, with an already impressive resume that all actresses of her caliber should emulate, is tough and unbending, in her raw account of a woman’s dedication to her family.  She demonstrates a level of talent that is both fearless, and a tangible metaphor for the American wife and mother of today.  She continues to slay.

Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan appear in “Mudbound” by Dee Rees.

A Grammy-winning artist such as Mary J. Blige should not be expected to devour a film the way she does in “Mudbound” but you will be floored at her interpretation of a mother, leading and supporting her family with a stoic fervor.  Her passion and earnestness bleed from the screen, as we are swept up into her subtle yet completely emphatic performance.  Pair her with the outstanding talent of Rob Morgan as her devoted husband, the film pulsates with inventiveness.

Jason Clarke‘s Henry is as despicable as we would expect of someone in the time.  The trick is what Clarke uses to stitch the man together, recreating an alluring person, while paying special attention to his particular rituals and sleazebag-talking lips.  He’s also greatly complimented by Jonathan Banks, whose vile Pappy is as treacherous as he is a human.

Mudbound” shows sweet judgment in a visceral, often times difficult sit.  She doesn’t create a caricature of southerners, rather a sadly familiar time that feels all too relevant today.  It’s almost dream-like quality is as if it was thought up by Steve McQueen, focusing on its assets, and giving all of it a chance to shine.  You can credit the work of Production Designer David J. Bomba and Costume Designer Michael T. Boyd, who place us firmly in the era.  In addition, Mako Kamitsuna‘s editing gives scenes the room needed to breathe and exist in the moment.  What a wonderful construct.

Mudbound” is a beauteous piece, utterly ravishing to the eyes and even more splendid on the soul.  An Oscar-worthy and exquisite cinematic film that we should be so lucky to have available to us.

“Mudbound” is screening at the New York Film Festival, is distributed by Netflix, and opens in theaters and streaming on Nov. 17.

GRADE: (★)

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |

  • Joey Magidson

    Agreed that it’s very good, though the pacing during the first half was a little slack. Also, not as high on Blige, though Hedlund and Mitchell really deliver.