Mudbound is a lacerating look at a 'golden age' in America

Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell (left) and Garrett Hedlund.
Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell (left) and Garrett Hedlund. PHOTO: NETFLIX

There are those in the United States who believe in the "make America great again" slogan and look back to a golden age when the country was strong and polite civility existed between the races.

This lacerating look at one so-called golden age - the period when America had just become a global military power, pre-civil rights protests - shows that life was anything but golden for those born the wrong colour.

Released on Netflix last month and nominated for two Golden Globes this week, this movie will make viewers howl with fury at the horrors visited on the Jackson family, farmers whose livelihoods depend on the good graces of their landlords, the McAllans.

Jason Clarke as Henry McAllan will enrage viewers with his casual cruelty. An incompetent father and worse farmer, he cannot function without the aid of his far more capable black tenant Hap (Rob Morgan), a fact that eats away at his dignity.

But real anger should be reserved for Henry's father, the implacably racist Pappy, played by awardwinning actor Jonathan Banks with venomous effectiveness.

Director and co-writer Dee Rees keeps the poetic language of the 2008 novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, from which this screenplay is adapted.

In voiceovers, presumably by Ronsel (Mitchell), the scene is set for a tragedy in the final act.

  • REVIEW / DRAMA

  • MUDBOUND (M18)

    135 minutes/Showing on Netflix/

    3.5/5 Stars

    The story: In pre-World War II rural Mississippi, the fates of two families - one white and one black - are entwined. The McAllans are landowners, while the Jacksons are their tenant-farmers and slaves in all but name. When Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) returns from the war, he brings dangerous ideas of racial equality. He finds common ground with Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund), also a veteran.

There are moments when Rees hits the black history textbooks too hard or is too pat in explaining motivation. For example, does the audience need to know the exact moment in the war that made Jamie (Hedlund) less racist?

Oscar-nominated English actress Carey Mulligan, who plays Henry's long-suffering wife Laura, is wasted with a character that is all but chopped from the last two acts.

The reason to watch this is for Morgan's performance as Hap. He bears every racist indignity with stoic resignation. His face is a mask of deference, but his eyes flash with outrage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'Lacerating look at a 'golden age' in America'. Print Edition | Subscribe