Mudbound Movie Review
Mudbound is considered a potential Best Picture contender, but the straight-to-Netflix title feels more like a glorified TV movie—which, it essentially is—than a legitimately great drama. About two men who face racism in the Deep South after fighting abroad during World War II, but also about their respective families, Mudbound has a respectable cast and nice aesthetics, but that’s about it.
Director and co-writer Dee Rees bit off more than she can chew. The story meanders from character to character, going so far as to offer tedious voiceover narration from at least five or six of them (voiceover being the laziest way to develop characters). The first half of the movie seems to be building to something else entirely, with a very-white Jason Clarke moving his wife (Carey Mulligan) and children to a muddy farm, where they cross paths with a black family parented by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige. The two families strike up a shaky relationship, with Clarke’s character viewing their circumstances more from a business perspective while Mulligan’s seems to care less about the racial divide. There’s also the racist grandpa (Jonathan Banks) to spout the n-word here and there.
Judging by the first half, Mudbound seems set on a journey to explore the dynamics between the two families, and perhaps the influence of economics on such dynamics (Rees alludes to the fact the white family isn’t actually thriving, but that’s about it). Mulligan, Clarke, Morgan and Blige seemed primed for the lead roles, with Clarke given the most interesting of the bunch: unlike his father (Banks), he seems unconcerned about interacting with his black neighbors, but also has little interest in rocking the boat by befriending them. His relationship with his wife is strained, and he’s a proud man who has forced his family to live in a shithole.
If there was any character deserving of an arc and evolution, it’d be his, and yet Mudbound does nothing with him. Nor does it do much with Mulligan, who is forced to the sidelines as the story progresses. Morgan and Blige are given very little to do as well.
Instead, Rees switches gears halfway through, opting to making the movie about two young men—one white (Garrett Hedlund), one black (Jason Mitchell)—who return from war and bond over their experiences. Despite a few so-so war scenes, their characters had been given little thrift up until this stage—in other words, up until the time they return to the South, I didn’t even know I was supposed to care about either of them.
While the relationship between Hedlund and Mitchell’s characters is by far the most compelling part of the film, the rest of the story careens down a very predictable and cliché path, ending with what you’d might expect. Rees abandons what could have been an interesting exploration of family dynamics and opts for stereotypical, punch-you-in-the-face developments that are shrugworthy at best.
Mudbound simply feels like wasted potential, a surface-level dissection of race relations that offers nothing new. The good thing is, that since it’s on Netflix, it won’t cost you anything extra.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.