Mudbound (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 27, 2017 @ tonymacklin.net.

Mudbound is adapted from a novel, but it lacks the novel's credibility.

Mudbound is a quality film, but it doesn't have the vision or depth of the novel. It cuts some relevancy and motivation. It adds on an ending that belongs on a Hallmark film.

The power and acting of the film carry it, but the screenplay is less than it should be. And that is a major flaw.

Mudbound is set in 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where two families struggle to survive. One family is white, the other is black. The McAllans - Henry (Jason Clarke) and Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children - work on a farm, and the Jacksons - Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) and their children also work on the unforgiving land. Both families face dire prospects.

Henry's brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Hap's son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) return from Europe where they experienced brutality in World War II. They both have psychological wounds from the shared experience.

Slowly the two meet and talk because of their experience, but their bonding is not allowed in their homeland where there is blatant racism. They are strangers in a barren, forbidding land.

Their relationship climaxes in a fury of violence that fundamentally effects both families. Their lives are changed forever.

The acting is a strength in Mudbound, particularly in the many scenes between two characters.

Jason Clarke is able in the thankless role of Laura's limited husband. Carey Mulligan makes her repressed but sensitive character come to sporadic life.

The scenes between Clarke and Rob Morgan (Hap) are solid. The scenes between Mulligan and Mary J. Blige (Florence) are especially poignant, in the characters' restrictions imposed by society.

And the scenes between Garrett Hedlund (Jamie) and Jason Mitchell (Ronsel) add to the quiet resonance of communication. Hedlund has been in a bunch of mediocre movies, but in Mudbound he finally shows what he can do. Mitchell is persuasive as the alienated black veteran.

Jonathan Banks brings the racist character Pap to vivid, ugly life. Pap probably is the most repulsive character of the year.

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees should get credit for the scenes of confrontation from low-keyed to roaring. The film is full of such duets.

Rees keeps the technique of different narrators that was author Hillary Jordan's device in her novel. But Rees's transposing and changing language and content are not equal to Jordan.

Jordan created dualities: Hap and Pap, the two McAllan brothers, the two fathers of two families, the two wives, the two veterans, the two mules, the two races, and on and on. Hillary Jordan knew what she was doing.

The screenplay written by Rees and Virgil Williams is not as knowing. Their deletions rob Mudbound of some of its credibility. They drop Jamie's line "...I'm going right to the sheriff, I swear I'll do it." And they drop his identifying the assailants. Jamie's outbursts lead to what is then done. The attackers don't want to kill him. In the film it's unmotivated and less believable.

But the most galling alteration is the ending. It's up there with the film endings of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957) and Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts (1958) in violating the novels that had come before.

The screenwriters even drop the allusion that Ronsel makes to Martin Luther King at the end. Too political? Hardly. But Rees and Williams prefer melodrama.

Jordan has an epigraph from James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men at the beginning of her novel Mudbound. There is no sign of Agee's humanism in the film. [It's ironic that the reference Agee who was the godfather of film criticism is cut from the film].

Williams has said of the book's and movie's use of narration, "It gives that sort of Twitter feed feel that Mudbound is adapted from a novel, but it lacks the novel's credibility.

Mudbound is a quality film, but it doesn't have the vision or depth of the novel. It cuts some relevancy and motivation. It adds on an ending that belongs on a Hallmark film.

The power and acting of the film carry it, but the screenplay is less than it should be. And that is a major flaw.

Mudbound is set in 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where two families struggle to survive. One family is white, the other is black. The McAllans - Henry (Jason Clarke) and Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children - work on a farm, and the Jacksons - Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) and their children also work on the unforgiving land. Both families face dire prospects.

Henry's brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Hap's son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) return from Europe where they experienced brutality in World War II. They both have psychological wounds from the shared experience.

Slowly the two meet and talk because of their experience, but their bonding is not allowed in their homeland where there is blatant racism. They are strangers in a barren, forbidding land.

Their relationship climaxes in a fury of violence that fundamentally effects both families. Their lives are changed forever.

The acting is a strength in Mudbound, particularly in the many scenes between two characters.

Jason Clarke is able in the thankless role of Laura's limited husband. Carey Mulligan makes her repressed but sensitive character come to sporadic life.

The scenes between Clarke and Rob Morgan (Hap) are solid. The scenes between Mulligan and Mary J. Blige (Florence) are especially poignant, in the characters' restrictions imposed by society.

And the scenes between Garrett Hedlund (Jamie) and Jason Mitchell (Ronsel) add to the quiet resonance of communication. Hedlund has been in a bunch of mediocre movies, but in Mudbound he finally shows what he can do.

Jonathan Banks brings the racist character Pap to vivid, ugly life. Pap probably is the most repulsive character of the year.

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees should get credit for the scenes of confrontation from low-keyed to roaring. The film is full of such duets.

Rees keeps the technique of different narrators that was author Hillary Jordan's device in her novel. But Rees's transposing and changing language and content are not equal to Jordan.

Jordan created dualities: Hap and Pap, the two McAllan brothers, the two fathers of two families, the two wives, the two veterans, the two mules, the two races, and on and on. Hillary Jordan knew what she was doing.

The screenplay written by Rees and Virgil Williams is not as knowing. Their deletions rob Mudbound of some of its credibility. They drop Jamie's line "...I'm going right to the sheriff, I swear I'll do it." And they drop his identifying the assailants. Jamie's outbursts lead to what is then done. The attackers don't want to kill him. In the film it's unmotivated and less believable.

But the most galling alteration is the ending. It's up there with the film endings of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957) and Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts (1958) in violating the novels that had come before.

The screenwriters even drop the allusion that Ronsel makes to Martin Luther King at the end. Too political? Hardly. But Rees and Williams prefer melodrama.

Jordan has an epigraph from James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men at the beginning of her novel Mudbound. There is no sign of Agee's humanism in the film. [It's ironic that the reference Agee who was the godfather of film criticism is cut from the film].

Williams has said of the book's and movie's use of narration, "It gives that sort of Twitter feed feel that millennials are just used to." No, it doesn't.

And Rees has said about her filmmaking, "I understand it's like a dance between art and commerce."

In Mudbound, Rees does a commercial dance.

© 2000-2017 Tony Macklin