Critics and audiences went wild for Dee Rees’s roiling Southern epic, adapted from Hillary Jordan’sacclaimed novel. It’s not hard to see why. The film is muscular and sprawling, telling the long and complicated story of two families sharing the same fraught space: a Mississippi Delta farm, owned by a white family and worked on, for generations, by a sharecropping black family.
Mudbound—primarily set in the charged and uncertain years after World War II—highlights a time and place that we don’t often see on film, which is welcome. The film’s cast is strong, most of all Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell as two young veterans who form a dangerous friendship as they process their war trauma together. Rob Morgan is also terrific, playing a principled sharecropper who dreams of owning a piece of land, but is consistently thwarted by the demands of his callous white landlords (Jason Clarke andCarey Mulligan) and the broader inequities of the era. As a robust and damning examination of the mechanics and horrors of racism, Mudbound is often quite effective. But I wasn’t as up on this movie as many of my colleagues were. To my mind, Mudbound makes the critical error that so many novel-to-film adaptations do, trying to include too many disparate story threads from the book, giving the film an arbitrary, episodic flow. Our focus is too often pulled from the compelling central narrative shared by Mitchell and Hedlund. It’s not that the digressions aren’t interesting. In fact, I left Mudbound longing for the rich mini-series that Rees could have made out of the material. But it’s all too much for one movie, and everything suffers from not being given its proper attention. Still, Mudbound made an undeniable rumble at Sundance. It’s the kind of big, meaty storytelling that can feel awfully invigorating amidst a sea of wispier indie fare. Awards prognosticators would be wise to keep an eye on this one.