Review: Mudbound

MUDBOUND was previously reviewed as part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage.

PLOT: A woman (Carey Mulligan) is forced to relocate when her husband (Jason Clarke) buys a farm in rural Mississippi circa WW2. Once there, they get to know a family of tenant farmers working on their property, whose son (Jason Mitchell) has gone to war.

REVIEW: Sundance is a very tricky festival when it comes to predicting what will break out and what won’t. Coinciding with the Oscar nominations, as it does each year, visiting journalists can’t help but speculate on the new films and their Oscar chances. There’s always at least one or two movies from the fest that end up in the race, but for each WHIPLASH or MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, there’s a few like BIRTH OF A NATION, which was all but crowned this year’s best picture a full year before the nominations, only to see its chances go up in smoke when controversy from writer-director-star Nate Parker’s past dominated the discussion.

This is why I hesitate to call MUDBOUND a shoo-in Oscar contender as some other journos are prediction, but I’ll say this – if there’s any justice director Dee Rees’s film will be a major part of the film discussion this year. Certainly Rees, who made a splash at Sundance a few years back with PARIAH, will now be regarded as one of our top directors, with her turning Hillary Jordan’s novel into a riveting, epic period drama with some sobering content and exquisite acting.

While the plot description may make it sound like this is a Carey Mulligan vehicle, MUDBOUND is a true ensemble, something made clear by the way each of the half-dozen main characters gets a chance to narrate portions of the tale. More like classic Hollywood fare such as GIANT or even GONE WITH THE WIND as opposed to modern Sundance offerings, Rees’s accomplishment here is nothing short of extraordinary. She takes us on a 133 minute journey that takes its time as tells a magnificent story, with career-best performances by some of the stars.

Chief among them is Garrett Hedlund. Always a charismatic guy, his performances can also be a tad broad at times, but his work here is disciplined. His John Huston/Daniel Day-Lewis style cadence from PAN & BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK is dropped, and his work as a former ladies man turned war vet who comes home enlightened – something dangerous for forties Mississippi – is the best thing he’s ever done. Whomever picks it up may try to sell the romantic aspect between him and his on-screen sister-in-law, who’s married to Jason Clarke’s not-unkind, but status-quo observing farmer.

All of the white characters inhabit a kind of gray area, save for Jonathan Banks as Hedlund and Clarke’s hateful, KKK-loving Pappy, as horrific a villain as in recent memory. The weight of the film is distributed evenly between the Clarke-Mulligan-Hedlund family, and the black tenant farmers, with Rob Morgan as the kind patriarch, and Mary J. Blige stunning as the strong matriarch.

Much of the story hinges on the family’s son, played by STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON’s Jason Mitchell, who comes back from the war only to discover he’s still considered subhuman by his ignorant white neighbors, with the notable exception of Hedlund, who views the young man as a kindred spirit, and the only one he can relate to after the war. In this world, a friendship built on equality between a white man and a black one is considered an unforgivable transgression, leading to shocking moments and a powerful message – still relevant despite us now living in what we presume is a more enlightened time.

Through it all, Rees’s craft is remarkable, with epic lensing by Rachel Morrison (the DP of FRUITVALE STATION) and Tamar-kali’s score. It’s really an amazing movie, but again, who knows if it’ll connect. Whatever the case, if Sundance has a raison d’etre, it’s to give movies like this a platform, and this is a movie well-worthy of the opportunity to break out.

Review: Mudbound




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.