Mudbound: Netflix’s Award-Hopeful Just Might Get The Job Done

Last year’s Academy Awards shifted to a discussion of streaming services and their viability when it comes to awards when Amazon’s Manchester By The Sea had quite the showing, including Best Actor. Streaming tv had been doing okay for a few seasons, but the film world had hardly taken noticed yet. While I firmly believe that Beasts Of No Nation should’ve gotten some love for Idris Elba, it seems that Netflix is looking at their best shot since then with the new film from Dee Rees, Mudbound.

Mudbound is based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, and adapted by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. The story follows two families in rural Mississippi throughout World War II. The McAllan’s are white and the Jacksons are black. You can imagine what might happen given the time period.

Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) moves his family from Memphis to the Mississippi Delta. His wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan), is unaccustomed to farm life. Along with them is Henry’s charming brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), and his irritable racist father (Jonathan Banks). Meanwhile, Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) has been working the same stretch of land for his whole life, along with his wife, Florence (Mary J. Blige), and his son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell).

Jamie and Ronsel separately enlist and join the war effort in Europe. The former is saved by a black pilot, and the latter relishes at being welcomed as a liberator by the white Europeans. By the time the war ends and they both come back home, they are able to bond over their experiences and their shared PTSD. As expected, this isn’t received particularly well.

Florence is called to help the McAllan family when their two young daughters begin suffering from whooping cough, and Henry has to help them out when Hap breaks his leg and can’t keep up with his farm work.

The remainder of the film isn’t necessarily “hard to predict” based on what we all know about racial tensions at this time, but I won’t go through the rest of the plot just to be safe. I will address that the very first scene IS just about the end of the film, but the second viewing changes the perception almost entirely.

Sometimes, something that is important isn’t exactly easy to watch. Mudbound is exactly that, as are many other films that deal with racial tensions in America’s past. The biggest problem is that Mudbound not only reflects our past; it casts a shameful shadow on our present as well. This film is NOT easy to watch at times, so be careful if you are sensitive to violence, but it IS important.

There’s a reason that the Gotham Independent Film Awards gave a special ensemble performance award to Mudbound, and the film will receive another similar award from the Independent Spirit Awards in March. Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan can always be counted on to deliver great performances, and Jason Mitchell has been impressive ever since he rose to prominence in Straight Outta Compton. Several critics have been making claims for Rob Morgan to be a Best Supporting Actor contender, but most of the attention has been on the very deserving Mary J. Blige, who has already won a handful of awards for Breakthrough Performance and looks to pick up more nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Beyond just the acting categories, Dee Rees seems a likely possibly for Adapted Screenplay and possibly even Best Director if the voting body is especially saucy. I can’t imagine how good it would feel to see Rees nominated alongside Greta Gerwig in a category that has only managed one win and three other nominations for women directors.

AND SPEAKING OF #TOOMANYDUDES

Rachel Morrison WON Best Cinematography from the New York Film Critics Circle, putting her ahead of most of the crowd. A woman has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. I absolutely love the work of Roger Deakins, but the fact that he has 13 more nominations than every woman combined is a bit of a travesty. There has been a lot of focus on non-white actors breaking into the Oscars (which I do believe is very important), but there hasn’t been as much talk of women breaking into traditionally male categories. I don’t know if I necessarily believe that Morrison and Mudbound should win this year, but the nomination deserves to happen and the story would be wonderful.

With the sheer amount of Netflix Originals floating around the streaming service, we owe it ourselves to give our time to those films that actually deserve it. A lot of them are very forgettable, so these must-see films NEED to be seen and talked about. You should see Beasts Of No Nation. You should see Okja.

You should see Mudbound.

Mudbound: 8/10

Nick Potter

Co-founder of The Filmsmiths. Degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts with a minor in Cinema Studies from Central Michigan University. Pretty much the barbecue sauce of people but I'm doing my best.

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