Mudbound 

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Mudbound is exactly the kind of film that normally wins Oscars. It is full of great performances, it is beautifully shot and it tells an important story of fortitude and injustice set in a period in American history built on victory and shame. It would be discourteous to suggest that the film is purposefully courting awards though as this is a tale that needs telling, now more than anytime in the last four decades, and it is bigger than even the biggest trophies. The Academy has shown more variety in the last few years by honouring different kinds of movies, such as Spotlight and Moonlight, but it would be entirely appropriate if they chose to reward Mudbound with its focus on dirt and darkness. Interestingly, aside from a small theatrical release, the movie is being put out by Netflix which marks a significant step forward for them after a run of big name movies that really belonged on the small screen. This is important film making.

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Mudbound is a story about America’s racist past and the unimaginable crimes it committed. Unlike Selma and Hidden Figures it is not about the period when the tide began to turn rather depicting a time when racism was cultural and deeply, immovably embedded. Yet unlike 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained it is not set a hundred and fifty years ago, it tells of a time just after my parents were born. This was a relatively recent time with vile attitudes that need to be shouted and cried and wailed about because in some quarters they are coming out of hiding again. What recent events in America have shown is that racial hate crimes committed by groups are not a thing of the past and Mudbound is a film that will make you cry and ache at the bigotry, not just of then but of now.

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The film centres around two families in 1940s Mississippi. The white McAllens who own a cotton farm and the African American Jacksons who work on it. The first half of the film shows the pressures of this dynamic but things really kick in when a young man from each family returns from World War ll. Connected through their shared experience and no longer seeing any difference between them because of the colour of their skin they become close friends. This terrifies those around them and life becomes harder for them than it was when they were fighting in Europe. Jamie McAllen is suffering PTSD and Ronsel Jackson is victim to prejudice where previously he was celebrated as a hero. Both circumstances are heartbreaking but it is society’s awful treatment of the young black soldier at a time when the country should be celebrating victory and honouring those that won it for them that seems the most tragic. For some there were worse enemies than Nazis at home.

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The performances are strong across the board. With Jamie, Garrett Hedland manages to put the cliched and underwhelming hero parts he played in things like Pan and Tron: Legacy behind him and is cementing his reputation as a good dramatic lead. (Charlie Hunnam take note.) Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan are effective as his brother and sister in law, neither of them venomously racist but both enablers to one extent or another. They tread a particularly fine line with how much of a bigot Mulligan’s Laura is and it is actually to their credit that they don’t make her an unrealistic crusader for equal rights as a woman in her situation would not have been. Jonathan Banks’ Pappy McAllen is the real KKK canker and is truly repulsive but sadly believable in his counterfeit righteousness. Jason Mitchell is a good counterpoint to the hate with his portrayal of Ronsel, a man changed for the better by the global conflict but beaten back down by the local one. Then we have Rob Morgan, who you may recognise from Stranger Things, and Mary J. Blige, who is barely recognisable from her multi platinum, multi Grammy winning career as an Hip Hop Soul singer, who are both superb as his parents. 

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The real star of Mudbound though is female director Dee Rees who handles the story with authenticity and restraint but without compromising the power. The cinematography from Rachel Morrison is also great as is the editing from Mako Kamitsuna and it is refreshing to see women film makers excelling on what will no doubt be the first of many more high profile projects. Mudbound is challenging inequality both on and off the screen. As I said, important film making.

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