In recent years, Netflix has built a reputation for offering some of television’s best shows but with 2015’s Beasts of No Nation, the streaming giant proved that it could provide compelling film experiences as well. Mudbound is Netflix’s most recent exclusive film release and one that aims to be the first of its kind to receive an Academy Award nomination.
Mudbound is a story of two families struggling to survive in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. The central focus of the film is the two families’ sons, who return home from war and are faced with dealing with PTSD and racism in rural Mississippi. The two sons, Jaime McAllen (played by Garrett Hedlund), and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) share a bond in their combat experiences and are both struggling to adjust to life back home.
Meanwhile, the head of the McAllen family, Henry (Jason Clarke), purchases a plot of land on the Delta and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and daughter reluctantly follow. Along for the ride is Henry and Jamie’s crotchety old racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks), who plays a pivotal role in the film’s thematic examination of racial tensions prevalent during the postwar period. The Jackson family, headed by Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige), rent a plot of land adjacent to that of the McAllen’s and act as caretakers of the land. Ronsel Jackson is the eldest son and upon return from the war he starts up a friendship with Henry’s brother Jaime.
While the latter half of the film follows Jaime and Ronsel’s story, the first half of the film takes on the narrative perspective of the heads of each family. Allowing the viewer to see things through the eyes of each major character gives the viewer a good sense of each families predicament and struggle with everyday life on the farm. There are many standout performances in this film, with particularly strong supporting work from Carey Mulligan and a surprise performance from Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson. Both women are the true heads of each family and are the glue holding each household together.
We also get some excellent performances from our two lead characters. Hedlund and Mitchell have some wonderful chemistry on screen, with Mitchell in particular standing out as the disillusioned Ronsel, who quickly discovers that despite being a war hero in Europe, he’s “just another Ni–er” upon his return to Mississippi. Ronsel’s a proud man and gets himself into trouble while standing up to some local racists, including Jaime’s father Pappy.
Garrett Hedlund provides a wonderful portrayal of a soldier returning home with PTSD and trying to find his place in society. Jaime masks his pain with alcohol and his relationship with Ronsel causes further tension between him and his father Pappy. The film’s climax arises when Pappy finds out that Ronsel has fathered a child with a white woman while at war in Belgium. The plot then takes a dark turn that is both powerful and difficult to watch. As Pappy, Jonathan Banks makes for an excellent antagonist in the film’s second half. It’s heartbreaking to see Jaime coming to the realization that he is helpless when it comes to protecting his friend and is forced with making a decision that will change Ronsel’s life forever.
In a film with so many different characters, Mudbound does a good job of spreading around the character development, aided by the multiple narrative perspectives early in the film. Ronsel and Jaime’s arc anchors the film as a whole, but the supporting characters also bring a lot to the table. Director Dee Rees does a masterful job in conveying the hardships of life in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940s. Mudbound is a powerful film that not only elevates Netflix’s growing lineup of prestige pictures, but one that could very well be in consideration for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture.