TIFF Review: ‘Mudbound’ is Brave and Powerful

You can feel something terrible is going to happen. It percolates under the surface of the film like boiling water, waiting to burn, to scald the lives of those within. Life impacts families, and people different ways, I suppose it is the measure of one as to how we deal with how it is all thrown at us.

Mudbound, which earned strong reviews at Sundance earlier this year is a visceral, powerful film about two families who find their lives intertwined before, during and after the Second World War.

Henry (Jason Clarke) is a hard-working man who courts and marries Laura (Carey Mulligan) an educated young woman who he drags to a two hundred acre farm in rural Mississippi, where he learns he has been swindled. Forced to live in a tiny house on the farm, the house is over crowded with their two kids and racist, contemptuous father. His number one man is a proud sharecropper who lives not far away in a run down shack with his large family. Hap is a good man, but never treated by Henry like an equal. Laura on the other hand is good to Hap and his family. Each has a family member at war, and their return sets in motion a series of devastating events.

When charismatic Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) return home from war they each haunted by different things. For Ronsel, a hero at war defending his country, he returns to Mississippi to find he still, even as a hero has to sit at the back of the bus, and exit stores through the back. Nothing about racism, even when a man fought for his country, has evolved. He strikes up a friendship with Jamie, haunted by his experiences at war, drinking his life away, and against all the social norms in the South, the men become best friends. Though they see color, they look deeper into the wounded of each other. Watch their first encounter, when that car backfires, they are both plunged back into the horror of combat, and as they did then, they bond, this time because of their nightmares.

Their friendship, and Ronsel’s actions overseas will bring about a life altering event that impacts both families. The performances in the film are exquisite, especially Mulligan, stoic, raising her children in what must be hell, Mary J. Bilge, wonderfully stoic and strong as Ronsel’s mother, Jason Mitchell, proud and defiant as Ronsel, not quite believing what he encounters back home, and the under appreciated Garret Hedlund as Jamie, his eyes betraying his nightmares.

The atmosphere is often overwhelming as we feel the heat, that scorching Mississippi sun, and can smell the wet earth, the mud that holds these people in place on the land. The racism within the film gives the picture a double edged, the mere uttering of that terrible “n” word brought gasps in the audience. We feel the hate of the whites towards the blacks, and it is as much an abomination today as it was then. What a terrible scar on the American South.

It as though the constant rain were the tears of God weeping for what his creations have wrought, and the muddy earth the infectious wound left behind. What a scar on humanity. And what a brave and powerful film.

Rating: 4/5