Mudbound was another film we both saw at Middleburg. It won the audience award at the festival and it’s easy to see why: great performances in a tragic epic of two families, one black and one white, in the Deep South in the 1940s. The film confronts race head on as the white McAllan family buys a farm where the Jacksons, black tenant farmers, have been living for generations. Writer/director Dee Rees delivers a powerful story of friendship and hate. It’s is a beautifully shot and very timely film.

The storylines weave between the two struggling families, both trying to rise out of the mud, though clearly the McAllans always have the upper hand. But the racial tensions come to a head when soldier Ronsel Jackson returns from a decidedly less racist Europe to a town still mired in violent hatred. Ronsel is befriended by Jamie McAllan, brother of the farm owner, who has also just come back from the war. These two young men’s relationship upsets the accepted order and everyone is affected by the end.

The movie is gorgeously shot by Rachel Morrison. And Dee Rees’s adaptation of the novel is a master class on giving voice to a rich pool of characters. The movie’s standout performance comes from Mary J. Blige who plays Florence, the mother of the Jackson family. The weight of everyone is on her’s shoulders: her son who is at war, her husband who is forced to abide daily indignities, the white family’s needs, and her own sense of justice for her family. Jason Mitchell as Ronsel also gives a stellar performance. It’s not an easy film, but it is a great one. It’s on Netflix now and in selected theaters.

Mainstream Chick had this to say about it: This film, based on a novel, represented the first real ‘epic’ at MFF and got about as close to a ‘wow’ as I was inclined to give on Day Two. It’s a powerful film with a whipass smart female director, Dee Rees, whose post-screening Q&A was a highlight of the festival. Mudbound is a period drama about two families – one black, one white – who live on farmland in rural Mississippi, and what happens when a young man from each family returns to the farm after serving in World War II. Mudbound has a strong ensemble cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige (!). There was A LOT going on in this movie but ultimately it all works, and I count it among my early frontrunners for Awards Season consideration.

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