Out filmmaker Dee Rees’ fantastic new drama “Mudbound,” opening Nov. 17 at the Ritz at the Bourse (and out on Netflix), tracks two families — one black, one white — in 1940s Mississippi. The film, adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel, immerses viewers in the hardscrabble life of working the muddy delta farmland. The muck, the rain and the heat are truly palpable.
The storytelling is absorbing as well. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) marries Laura (Carey Mulligan) and moves her, their kids and Henry’s racist Pappy (Jonathan Banks) to a farm in Mississippi; Henry’s brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), goes off to war. Meanwhile, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) are tenant farmers hoping to own some land. Their son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), also goes off to war. Each family faces trials and tribulations that run parallel but sometimes overlap. When Jamie and Ronsel return from overseas, they develop a friendship that rankles the bigoted townsfolk.
“Mudbound” generates considerable emotion in the scenes between the two men, and Hedlund and Mitchell have a terrific natural rapport. However, when things turn (expectedly) violent and ugly, the film gets quite intense. Rees handles the big dramatic, unpleasant scenes with confidence. But she also includes tender and satisfying moments, such as Hap and Florence dancing, or a character getting his deserved come-uppance.
With feisty turns from Mulligan and Blige as the long-suffering matriarchs, and some poetic voice-over narrations, “Mudbound” is quite stirring. This powerful, moving film is highly recommended.