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« RuPaul's Next Batch of All Stars! | Main | Middleburg Day 1: Delightful Fest / Darkest Hour »
Friday
Oct202017

The Epic and Crowded "Mudbound"

by Murtada

About halfway into Mudbound, the new film from Dee Rees (Pariah), the matriarch of a family of landowners in the Mississippi Delta Laura Mcallan (Carey Mulligan) offers a maid job to Florence (Mary J Blige), whose family are land tenants of Laura's husband Henry (Jason Clarke). The offer comes after Florence had been forced to leave her own family for a few days to help Laura with her sick young daughters. It is a startling offer that comes out of nowhere and Florence isn't given an option to accept or refuse, but rather told it’s been decided to hire her.

However before the audience can process the audacity of Laura’s offer and Florence’s resignation, we are immediately pulled into a combat battle in WWII where Henry’s brother (Garrett Hedlund) and Florence’s oldest son (Jason Mitchell) have enlisted. Herein lies Mudbound's dilemma...

Too many stories, too many voice overs by too many narrators. In addition to the characters already mentioned, Mudbound finds space for Florence’s husband (Rob Morgan) who injures himself on the fields adding to his family’s hardship. And for Henry’s racist father (Jonathan Banks) who is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The film marks a bold leap for Rees from the intimate character studies of Pariah (2011) and Bessie (2015), to a story epic in scale and scope. Mudbound spans about 5 years from just before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 to after the war ends in 1946. It takes us from drawing rooms of genteel Southerners to the mud filled fields of Mississippi to the battlefields in Europe. 

The stories Mudbound tell are intriguing. Black men who fought in WWII coming back to a racist, segregated and unjust society. Uneasy alliances between white and black women in the south and the kinship they found in shared sexism. The Klan and how it chose its targets. In adapting the novel by Hillary Jordan, Rees and Virgil Williams manage to flesh out all these characters, giving them vibrancy on screen despite a heavy reliance on voice over narration. The film has an acute sense of place in its design and cinematography. One feels the mud, and not just because Laura keeps talking about it. It is in the editing that the film becomes choppy, not giving any one story or any one character the space to breathe. 

Similarly the performances do not  simmer and explode, despite the story calling for that. We are always rushing to to the next scene, the next story, the next character. Morgan emerges as the one with the biggest impression with a lived-in poignant performance as a man who understands all too well the limits of the position he's afforded.

Grade: B
Oscar Chances: The jury is still out on whether Netflix can manage to successfully get into the marquee categories at the Oscars. I don’t think this will be the film to jump that hurdle. Adapted screenplay is its best shot. There seems to be a big push to single Blige out from the ensemble, but her role is small.

Mudbound will be available to stream and in select theaters on November 17.

more from Murtada | more on Dee Rees

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Reader Comments (14)

Interesting. Is Mary J. being pushed so vehemently in order to avoid a rehash of #oscarssowhite? Outside of her,;Octavia Spencer, Hong Chau, and extreme longshot Daniel Kaluuya, there doesn't seem to be many POC in contention. f only Tiffany Haddish were to be taken seriously for her glorious supporting performance of the year.

I don't think Netflix will break through this year. They have shown a tendency to bury great titles with little fanfare (the Jolie film and now Meyerowitz).

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBillyBob

Is Tiffany Haddish out of the question? If critics got behind her and with hardly any other POC could it happen? If Holly Hunter can get in for The Big Sick can Haddish?

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Is Betty Gabriel really out of consideration, too?

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

There are possibilities that could be also considered:

Supporting Actor:
- Gil Birmingham, "Wind River"
- Wes Studi, "Hostiles"
- Idris Elba, "Molly's Game"
- Lil Rel Howery, "Get Out"

Supporting Actress:
- Betty Gabriel, "Get Out"
- Carmen Egojo, "Roman Israel, Esq."
- Olivia Spencer, "The Shape of Water"

Best Actor:
- Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out"
- David Oyelowo, "A United Kingdom" (2016 UK release, but 2017 in US?)

I haven't seen "Detroit", but some of those performances were also praised.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Or if it's released this year, Michael Greyeyes in "Woman Walks Ahead".
I admit I love actors who are also dancers. I admire their discipline, timing, and charisma. Greyeyes was a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, and with Eliot Feld's dance company.

Only 2 Native Americans have been nominated for an Oscar:
Chief Dan George for "Little Big Man" in the 1970s
Graham Green for "Dances with Wolves", (1990?)

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I can't see any of them making the cut apart from possibly Spencer. I think Gil Birmingham is certainly a no-go unfortunately after the Weinstein revelations.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBillyBob

Honestly, Tiffany Haddish's nomination will have to be pushed by the Nathaniel level prognosticators/campaign leaders (Which although minor, you should take seriously). If She Isn't showing up in precursors AND not showing up in TFE coverage, we should all take umbrage. Use your level of prestige and privilege for good Nathaniel!!!

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLozza

So, even at 2h 9m before credits, this needed to be longer? Rob Morgan being identified as best in show isn't good. The one that makes the leap will probably be something that doesn't "feel" Netflix and "the guy who played Turk Barrett" as Best in Show is something that will feel VERY Netflix. And: Remember those three years where Carey Mulligan was on the cusp of becoming a relevant actress? Yeah, those are fading. Thank goodness. She has all the range of Joe Pesci, but none of the fun of that specific lack of range.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I agree with a lot of points Murtada made here but feel much differently about Mary J Blige. She was my MVP and I don't actually think it's a small role -- I keep hearing that and it perplexes me. I think she has a legitimate shot at a Best Supporting Actress nomination (if no sure thing given the strength of the category)

there are basically seven main characters. It's a true ensemble so there aren't any leads but my guess on level of screen time goes something like this

carey mulligan
garrett hedlund
jason mitchell
jason clarke
rob morgan
mary j blige
jonathan banks (by far the least)

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I can't wait to see this, but I too am doubtful that Netflix can break through with Oscar this year - at least in the main categories. With its strong ensemble, I could see this getting a SAG Ensemble nod, just like Beasts of No Nation did. SAG-AFTRA seems much more willing to embrace streaming-released movies in their major categories.

As far as Oscars So White, I think Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington are likely to happen this year. Maybe Hong Chau too, but who knows how Downsizing will do with audiences and awards bodies once it's released.

October 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

It's a shame since Netflix's line-up this year is strong. Between this, First They Killed My Father and the Baumbach.

October 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I really wish the Baumbach could break through this year. I haven't stopped thinking about it for a week, and it's grown in my estimation since I saw it. It deserves an original screenplay nomination, and I think Hoffman should be in contention, too.

I thought Mary J. showed a lot of promise in Rock of Ages (it may have been a mediocre movie, but she was good) and am interested in seeing what she does with a meatier role. This seems like the type of movie that would benefit from a big-screen viewing, though.

October 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Actually, I can see "Mudbound" getting a Best Picture nod... If critics go for it, it will work. It's a very "epic scale" movie like some big classics...! And if press/internet/bloggers show support for having the 5th Oscar nominated female director, well, why not consider Dee Rees?
Maybe I'm too confident... or maybe it is wishful thinking!
.
About #NotSoWhite contenders:
- Daniel Kaluuya for "Get Out"
- Tiffany Haddish for "Girls Trip"
- Mary J. Blidge for "Mudbound"
- Jason Mitchell for "Mudbound"
- Idris Elba for "Molly's Game"
- Nuno Lopes for "Saint George"
- Daniela Vega for "A Fantastic Woman"
- Betty Gabriel for "Get Out" (I wouldn't go for Betty to be honest)
- Laurence Fishburn for "Last Flag Flying"
.
And we have Jordan Peele (Get Out) competing for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay or Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) competing in Best Original Screenplay

October 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEd

I just read the novel and saw Mudbound. I wish I had seen the film first and read the novel later. In any case, it's a very good movie. But, then, it turns out that Dee Rees changed the ending, and gave it a Golden Hollywood-style, more sugar-coated and upfligting ending. The funny thing is that what she did totally clashes with the plot of Hillary Jordan's Mudbound sequel, Fatherlands (which she is working on). You can read about it in Wikipedia's article about Mudbound, the novel. Just let me tell you that they won't be able to make a film out of the sequel unless Jordan throws away what's she'w written and starts over!

November 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

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