The raw and muddy nature of the world that Dee Rees and her cinematographer Rachel Morrison create owes a lot to their on-location shooting in Louisiana. Mudbound continues to be the talk of the town after its premiere at Sundance. Its genuine depiction of Mississippi life during and after the Second World War for two families, the black share-tenants, the Jacksons, and the new white landowners from Tennessee, the McAllans, as they struggle to adjust with deep-rooted racism, PTSD and the unpredictability of their harvest is quite the spectacle. Hillary Jordan’s debut novel is gorgeously adapted here by Rees and Virgil Williams.
Rees clearly knows how to pull memorable performances from actors, having done so with her impressive debut Pariah and her television movie Bessie. She does it once again with Mudbound; without her flowing golden locks Mary J Blige is unrecognisable as Jackson family matriarch Florence. Her presence is subtle yet powerful. Florence is just one of six voices narrating the film along with Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan), Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund), Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and Hap Jackson (with a spectacular understated performance by Rob Morgan). This style of narration adds depth to a feature that could have easily been a two-dimensional storyline focused solely on Ronsel and Jamie. The intense violin-heavy score by Tamar-kali also provides narration, giving a voice to the harsh Mississippi farmland.
The shot composition and realistic lighting Morrison uses in the families’ homes, in church and on the landscape are exquisite. She creates a low-key warmth around the Jacksons while the McAllans remain in an unsettled state. Surprisingly, they shot on digital even though the film almost has an analogue quality to it. One impressive low angle crane shot of Henry on his tractor shifts to a sweeping aerial view showing the vastness of his property before cutting to an image of Jamie flying. The choice to film in actual sharecroppers’ houses from the 1800s adds to the picture’s authenticity.
It would be disappointing if Mudbound does not win some major awards this year, especially Best Supporting Actress for Mary J Blige and Best Cinematography for Rachel Morrison. Perhaps it would be even more disappointing if audiences turn a blind eye and do not realise the relevance such a movie has on modern society. Nevertheless, Rees’s unique voice is finally reaching the masses who have long been waiting for her.
Mudbound is released in selected cinemas and available on Netflix on 17th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Mudbound here: