Dec 20, 2017

A Grapes-of-Wrath echo with a modern sensibility.


Grade: A

Director: Dee Rees (Pariah)

Screenplay: Rees, Virgil Williams

Cast: Carey Mulligan (Suffragette), Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 14 min

by John DeSando

“Over there, I was a liberator. People lined up in the streets waiting for us. Throwing flowers and cheering. And here, I'm just another nigger pushing a plow.” Ronsel (Jason Mitchell)

In the memorable Mudbound, WWII serves as background for the war going on at home, where whites still beat up on blacks like Nazis on prisoners. Two unlikely friends, Jami (Garret Hedlund) and Ronsel ,white and black, go over the pond to war, come back as heroes, but fight again against the white scourge of the KKK and hidebound Mississippi prejudice.

Meanwhile, although the land is brown and the crops a challenge (The Grapes of Wrath hovers over the entire film), the black folk can sing about a better time while they fight for survival in the white man’s world. Writer/director, Dee Rees, along with writer Virgil Williams, makes the blacks dignified not in a condescending way but one which allows them to act with humanity more encompassing and compassionate than the more clichéd characterizations of African Americans in recent years.

A darkly photographed film, Mudbound keeps the titular color throughout, brown and subdued, just as Laura (Carey Mulligan) said in the always lyrical voiceover, “I dreamed in brown.” A few characters give poetic impressions as an antidote to the harsh lives playing out in front of the camera.

No less lyrical is the Searchers-like love between brother in law Jami and Laura. Although it’s love from a distance because Jami lives in his brother Henry’s (Jason Clarke) house, the two are isolated from each other like the whites and the blacks, with no encouragement even from their hearts to cross into love. This little world is just as confounded as the big one.

As frequently happens in dramas about warring factions, a break occurs where the sides can meet even in the smallest way. While the film has been a downbeat testimony to race relations still explosive after the war, it also poses a hope in the end, where the big war nemesis, love, conquers, as it always will.

Mudbound is a powerful evocation of the poisonous nature of slavery and racism and a testimonial to the intrepid salvation of love.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at