REVIEW: Great Acting, Strong Second Half Make ‘Mudbound’ Worth Checking Out

“Mudbound,” a film that has been released exclusively via streaming on Netflix, is very much a tale of two halves.

The movie introduces two families at the beginning, the McAllans and the Jacksons. The McAllans are a family including Henry (Jason Clarke), his brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), along with his two daughters. Henry and his family are owners and operators of an old farm in rural Mississippi. The Jacksons, meanwhile, are a family including Hap (Rob Morgan), Forence (Mary J. Blige) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who work on the McAllan’s farm.

The stress of farm life is apparent for both families, a fact that’s made even more visible when both Jamie and Ronsel join the military to fight in World War II. While they’re away, the families work in the southern heat and try to live as best they can. The dynamics of family life on the farm continue to change and evolve once the two men come back home, carrying painful memories of the war overseas.

The unfortunate factor of “Mudbound” is that it takes nearly halfway through the movie for things to really get interesting. The first half of the movie, despite containing some good performances, feels like it meanders too much with a few sub plots that don’t seem to add all that much to the whole film. The family dramatics, especially with the McAllans, simply doesn’t hold enough weight to keep things that interesting. This is made more troublesome because of the excessive narration from many of the characters.

In contrast, the second half is much more engaging, especially when Jamie and Ronsel are interacting with each other and discussing their tours of duty during WWII. This exploration of returning from war and having to deal with settling back into normal life is exceptional, especially for detailing the racial segregation Ronsel has to go through, even as a war hero. This aspect ultimately leads to a climax that’s quite heart-wrenching to watch considering the difficulty many of the characters have already been through.

From my perspective, the first half of the film could’ve actually benefited from showing more time of Jamie and Ronsel’s time in the war, as their return home is what really hooks in attention.

While the film’s plotting and story were hit or miss, though, what was consistent from start to finish was the acting. Garrett Hedlund, for example, gives likely the best performance of his career so far, capturing a man full of promise before the war and a person dealing with past demons after it.

Mitchell is just as good, portraying a character who is trying to keep his pride as a United States military veteran in the face of the horrific Jim Crow laws. It’s also great that Mitchell and Hedlund have tremendous chemistry here, making for a very believable friendship between their characters.

Credit should also has to go to the performers playing the lead protagonists’ family members. Mulligan is great at showing Laura as a woman was finds herself questioning the path she’s taken in life and Clarke is solid in portraying his character’s initial optimism be chiseled away by hardships. Coming with one of the best performances of the picture, though, was Mary J. Blige, who gave her character a great stoicism, playing a woman who is sort of the glue that held the Jackson family together at times.

It should also be noted that Director Dee Rees and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison made an absolutely stunning picture to look at. When watching “Mudbound,” you feel like you’re right there in a hot, muggy southern farm, making for an intensely immersive experience.

“Mudbound” does have a lot working for it thanks to the talent in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a picture worth checking out. At the same time, while the film’s first half does give vantage points of hardships living in the south during this era, it starts to feel too drawn out and to an extent, unnecessary. The second half rescues, things, though, for an overall good flick. 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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