Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Mudbound - a new netflix original movie

Netflix can be very hit and miss with it's original films. The vast majority of them are only there because (i assume) they weren't good enough to get a theatrical release but every one in a while a good one pops up. Mudbound is one such good one.

After they become the victim of a scam the McAllan's, a white family, move to a dirt farm in the Mississippi Delta. Their neighbours are the Jackson's, a black family of sharecroppers who rent their land and work it for them. Things are tense between them and a friendship between two of their family members based on mutual experiences in World War 2 isn't going to make things any easier.

This is a harsh, grim film about the dehumanising effects of racism, war and poverty and it's a very good one too. It's set in the 1940's but chock full of themes that will resonate with audiences watching 70 years later. Families losing everything in one fell swoop. The treatment of war veterans. Post traumatic stress disorder. The racism at the very heart of America. It doesn't shy away from any of it. Life back then was tough but if you were black it was tougher on you than anyone. One of our main characters is a soldier who feels happier fighting in Europe than he ever has at home. How disturbing and wrong is that. He's accepted in war, looked on as an equal. Then he comes home to find himself at the back of the bus again and leaving shops through the back door. It's upsetting and angering. Another is a man who through the ravages of war has seen how stupid and pointless bigotry is but old ways won't let him change. Slavery has been gone for the bones of 80 years at this stage but white people still impose on black people like they owned them. "Heritage not hate" eh? Fatherhood is another big thematic part of the film. How you raise your kids and the effect is has on them. Do you choose to be an honest hardworking example for them or drive them away from you with your bile and bitterness. They mightn't take on your hate but ignoring it and looking the other way is just as bad. All issues we still deal with today.

It's a dark watch but some lovely moments of humanity help leaven it. A son's smile as his mother enjoys a bit of chocolate. A scatological event at 20,000 feet. Hugs between fathers and sons. Two men recognising PTSD in each other a long time before it became a known thing and the small moments of happiness they can snatch from their new friendship. Moments are like little specks of light in the darkness and help to slightly ease the sheer unrelenting misery. From the horrible suffocating opening you know you're in for a hard time but it's really worth sticking with to the end.

The cast is good. Jason Clarke as Jamie is fine in a thankless role and Carey Mulligan as his wife Laura is good but wasted. More on her later. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell as Jamie and Ronsel are both on fire though. Two broken men trying to be cool and calm but the pain inside them showing through clearly. I've seen this type of work from Hedlund before but Mitchell who I've only seen in Straight Outta Compton was excellent. He'll break your heart. Mary J. Blige as Florence, mother of Ronsel is fantastic too, a woman totally devoted to her children. I didn't even recognise her until I saw her name in the closing credits. Watch out for her name come awards time, providing they can get over their ridiculous snobbery about Netflix. And finally Rob Morgan and Jonathan Banks. Both great as two very different types of patriarch. One loving and one full of hate. I loved the use of voiceover in the film too. It's not exposition heavy but it gives a good insight into the character's onscreen, their state of mind and the things they wouldn't dare say out loud. It's a long film too, clocking in at 135 minutes but because it's well paced and written so never feels boring. 

One particular story strand feels out of place but makes sense in the final act of the film. But it highlights a problem I had with the film too. Carey Mulligan's character Laura. She's good in the part and gets a couple of good scenes with Florence but it seems like her character only really exists for this moment at the end. To be a saviour to someone else. I dunno, She felt wasted to me. That's my only real issue with the film. Others mightn't feel this way at all. To me it was one area where I felt the film went a bit cliched.

That aside Mudbound is really worth at watch. It's a film that makes you realise how far we've come from the recent past but also how far we have still to go.

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