Director-cowriter Dee Rees (Bessie) gives this 1940s drama such an epic scale that it might have played out better as a TV miniseries, with more time to flesh out the characters and complex situations. But the themes are so vivid that it still gets under the skin, and the nonstop voiceover from a variety of characters adds plenty of thoughtful insight. If only there were fewer plot details brought over from Hillary Jordan's source novel, it might be an easier film to identify with.
It's set just as the US enters World War II, and Henry (Jason Clarke) buys a farm in Mississippi. His wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) isn't thrilled about leaving her comfortable home in the city to raise their two daughters in the muddy fields, accompanied by Henry's racist father (Jonathan Banks). She gets some support from their black tenant Florence (Mary J. Blige), wife of sharecropper Hap (Rob Morgan), who hopes one day to have a farm of his own. Florence and Hap's son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) is fighting in Europe, as is Henry's charmer of a brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund). And when these two soldiers return, their friendship stirs resentment among the bigots in the surrounding community.
The film's approach to segregation in the Deep South is riveting, and makes it important to see, especially as it so vividly depicts how this kind of racial division degrades everyone in ways that are both brutal and eerily subtle. And as the story progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that something horrific is going to happen. Rees gives the film a soulfulness that makes it thoroughly involving, even if she gives away a couple of key plot points in the prologue. She also creates a strikingly realistic atmosphere, with a rainsoaked landscape so vivid we feel damp closing in around us.
Continue reading: Mudbound Review
Two sisters (Anita Page and Bessie Love) are vaudeville performers trying to break into Broadway -- and when they get their chance, love gets in the way. Soon enough a love quadrangle has formed, as class struggles and a variety of misunderstandings rear their heads.
Continue reading: The Broadway Melody Review