Dee Rees, I bow down to you.
Rees, the remarkable filmmaker (and, if there's any justice in this world, 2017 Oscar nominee), who previously wowed us with Pariah and Bessie, is operating on a George Stevens/William Wyler-level with her latest effort, a film adaptation of the 2008 Hillary Jordan novel Mudbound. This is a true epic, grand visually and in its storytelling, and perhaps the year's best film.
The picture, an ensemble drama of the highest caliber, follows two Mississippi families, one white and one black, sharing delta farmland during and after World War II.
Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan) comes from a well-off Tennessee family and isn't entirely at ease on the farmland. She has a halfhearted marriage to Henry (Jason Clarke), whose dreams of running a prosperous farm brought the couple down south, and really has more of a kinship with Henry's dashing brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), who is serving overseas as a flight captain. Laura and Henry have two daughters.
Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) has for years worked the land as a tenant farmer and dreams of someday owning it. The Jacksons and McAllans are drawn together by several events, including Hap's wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) tending to the McAllans' daughters when they become ill and the Jacksons' need for some help when Hap sustains an injury. The Jackson's eldest son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) is serving abroad as a sergeant.
Upon their returns home, Jamie and Ronsel form an bond that hardly rubs the town racists in the right way. Jamie is anguished by wartime memories, while Ronsel is quickly reminded of the lack of freedoms he has at home, vis a vis Europe. Pappy (Jonathan Banks), the widowed McAllan patriarch and a vicious racist, seems to be looking for any excuse to bring an end to this friendship.
Mudbound is an absorbing piece from start to finish, masterfully written by Rees and Virgil Williams, and sporting some of the finest, most unaffected acting you'll see all year. Mulligan has never been better and Blige, Hedlund, Mitchell and Morgan are revelations in their respective roles - all would be richly deserving of Oscar nominations. Kudos too to Rachel Morrison, whose cinematography here is downright breathtaking.
This is a picture that deserves to be placed among the likes of The Best Years of Our Lives and From Here to Eternity as one of the all-time great World War II dramas.