If “Mudbound” amasses a number of Oscar nominations, it could be a real game changer for the motion picture industry.
Released this week on Netflix, it has the sprawl of a television miniseries but the gloss of a big-screen epic. It’s a sly look at racism, too, and an opportunity for director Dee Rees to say plenty about current affairs on a number of fronts.
Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 book, “Mudbound” looks at two families – one black, one white – around the time of World War II. One family farms land on the other’s property. Both have sons who go off to war.
There, one (Garrett Hedlund) toils as a fighter pilot; the other (Jason Mitchell) becomes a sergeant in an all-black tank battalion. Circumstances bring the two closer together and, naturally, one would think their success would translate back home.
Instead, Mitchell’s Ronsel realizes equality doesn’t extend to everyday life, only war. He’s belittled and derided and made to feel unwelcome, particularly by Hedlund’s “Pappy” (a vicious Jonathan Banks), who embodies much of the hatred in the community.
Hedlund’s brother (Jason Clarke) and sister-in-law (Carey Mulligan) aren’t quite as overt but they exhibit superiority as well.
That sparks the film’s drama and makes “Mudbound” a gritty look at many of the problems that exist today.
Mulligan gets her own ruts – as a woman who wants more than a pre-feminist world can offer. Mary J. Blige, as Mitchell’s mother, finds dignity in a place where few would even look.
Using small moments (like the reading of a letter) for big effect, Rees manages to move and educate without relying on clichés or a-ha revelations.
“Mudbound,” in fact, is one of those perfect-for-winter-viewing films that take hold without suffocating.
Mulligan and Mitchell are fine but Blige stakes the biggest claim to Oscar in a role that’s so removed from her musical persona you’ll wonder how she got the job.
She’s incredible, lending “Mudbound” its gravitas without reaching for a showy Viola Davis scene.
A hit on the indie film circuit, “Mudbound” will undoubtedly have a good life in Netflix, sharing its message with an audience much broader than a two-week run in most cities.
Smartly taking a different route, producers could effect change just by giving some a chance to see how the other half lives – for better or worse. “Mudbound” is a film that demands to be seen.