Published Jan. 1, 2018 at ZekeFilm.org.
Netflix’s New Drama Sets a Greek Tragedy in the Deep South
DIRECTOR: DEE REES/2017
“When I think of the farm, I think of mud.”
And when I think of Netflix’s new drama Mudbound, I think of Greek tragedies. Everything on the farm is covered in mud; every moment is tinged in tragedy. The Jackson and McAllan families entwine on the Mississippi farm, one owning the land and the other sharecropping. Together they suffer through the rain, a world war, their blood, and their burials. And when one family sinks in their sorrows, the other drowns with them.
Mudbound tells its story with a true ensemble. Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, and Carey Mulligan create characters with dimension even in the small world of this field. Each narrate their perspective as the story grows and reveal events buried in more layers than we can see. They all ache, yearn, and fight in their own ways, and no two relationships are alike.
Hap Jackson (Morgan, whom you may recognize from another Netflix ensemble in Stranger Things) and Henry McAllan (Clarke, one of those “I know I’ve seen him somewhere” actors) walk the fine line between neighbor and boss/employee, often to the detriment of their families. Laura McAllan (Mulligan) and Florence Jackson (Blige) relate as only mothers can. Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) and Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) connect because no one else understands their post-war PTSD. And Pappy McAllan (Banks)? He throws every wrench he can into their interdependency with his unconscionable selfishness and racism.
The cinematography tells the story in its own way as well. An earthy tint covers wood walls, the khaki soldiers’ uniforms, and the tan bed sheets. These characters can’t escape the earth that ties them together and keeps them alive because every frame coats their view with shades of dirt.
But for all the flourishing acting and photography, I don’t think I could endure Mudbound again. Was it worth watching? Definitely. The story and themes are well-cultivated and uncomfortably resonant today, but moments of joy flit away fast, and just when you think their pain can’t worsen, the Klan shows up. The film commits to the humanity of all of our players, helping us empathize with their hardships but leaving us sickened with the regrets of our past. (To be fair, this is a well-earned feature, not a bug.) Mudbound is ready to watch again whenever I want on Netflix, but I don’t think my heart could bear to trudge through this Greek tragedy in the Deep South again.