• [The Daily] Toronto 2017: Dee Rees’s Mudbound

    By David Hudson


    When Dee Rees’s Mudbound premiered at Sundance, I gathered a first round of reviews, beginning with Justin Chang’s for the Los Angeles Times: “Adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound sketches a vivid, dirt-under-the-nails panorama of 1940s Mississippi farm country, centered on the tightly bound interactions between a white couple, the McAllans (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan), and the Jacksons, a family of black sharecroppers (played by actors including Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan and Jason Mitchell) who work on their farmland. Rees intersperses the voice-overs of multiple characters throughout, a technique that takes some getting used to. But it also pays off with a richly nuanced understanding of the sheer pervasiveness and variety of racist attitudes in the Jim Crow era.”

    Since January, Critics Round Up has been tracking reviews, and now, with Mudbound slated to screen as a Gala Presentation in Toronto before moving on to the New York Film Festival, it’s prominently featured in the new issue of Film Comment. Ashley Clark argues that Mudbound “represents a significant leap in scope and scale from the determinedly low-key Pariah [2011] and the glossy, narratively straightforward Bessie [2015]. . . . Clocking in at a meaty 134 minutes, Mudbound is thrillingly ambitious and complex, and features daring experimental flourishes, including a multicharacter narration that, while initially a touch overbearing, ultimately lends the film an apposite epistolary quality—repressed characters who are physically or emotionally adrift from their families are given voice, to powerful dramatic effect.”

    And Clark, Eric Hynes and FC digital producer Violet Lucca discuss Mudbound on the latest Film Comment Podcast (49’15”).

    For all the enthusiasm for the film at Film Comment, C.J. Prin, writing for Cinema Scope, has a few reservations: “It’s an ambitious and admirable effort at a message of unity by Rees, but the structural juggling act spreads things too thin, forcing overlapping storylines into small, narratively pat chunks. The easy, familiar narrative beats, culminating in a melodramatic and predictable conclusion (one that loses its impact by Rees using the tired device of opening her film with a flash-forward), conflict with the attempt to cover such complex thematic ground. Much like its characters’ inability to break free from the racial and social barriers surrounding them, Mudbound finds itself unable to transcend its own conventions.”

    Update, 9/8: At Slant, Jake Cole suggests that “if the specter of the Civil War inevitably hangs over the story, the more pressing conflict is World War II, which sees Henry’s brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), and Hap’s son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), sent to Europe. There are only a few combat scenes in Mudbound, but they're bracingly constructed . . . As striking as Mudbound’s combat scenes are, they largely exist as setup for the postwar-set second half of the film, which scrutinizes the way that the atrocities witnessed in Europe laid bare the unsustainable hypocrisy in America’s own bigoted divisions.”

    Update, 9/17: “Through Ronsel and Jamie's friendship, Mudbound explores the ways that racism is a system that channels insecurity and resentment, specifically that of post-war masculinity in crisis,” writes Christopher Machell for CineVue. “This crisis of masculinity is also a crisis of modernity, with Ronsel dreaming of returning to a renewed, hopeful Germany, while Jamie plans on moving out West to the hyper-modern Los Angeles. . . Though Mudbound represent a period of injustice consigned to history, its examination of a toxic, racist masculinity stuck in the past could hardly be more relevant today.”

    Update, 9/19: “Rees is breaking all the rules,” declares April Wolfe in the LA Weekly. “In film school, they tell you, ‘No voiceovers,’ yet this film . . . is filthy with them. They tell you, ‘Play it safe until you’re more experienced,’ yet Mudbound is a sprawling epic. They say, ‘Never make a period piece because the budget will be prohibitive,’ yet the setting here spans multiple years and continents in the 1940s. With Mudbound, Rees proves the truest rule of all: That talent and vision make all lesser rules negotiable.”

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