Director: Dee Rees
Screenplay: Dee Rees and Virgil Williams
Starring: Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks
Country: USA
Running time: 134 min
Year: 2017
BBFC Certificate: 15

Netflix has been hit and miss when it has come to the films it has either produced or distributed, but when it has hit, it’s hit hard, delivering some excellent movies from the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Alfonso Cuaron.

Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees, fits alongside the films by these great directors and stands as a definite hit in the quality stakes, a richly evocative drama filled with wonderful performances, a great sense of place, beautiful cinematography, and a tragic tale that is very relevant today.

The film was adapted by Rees and co-screenwriter Virgil Williams from the 2008 novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan. It opens in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s as we see two brothers, Henry (Jason Clarke) and Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) McAllan burying their father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks). Henry decides against the burial location when they realise the land is a slaves grave and he doesn’t think his father would want to be buried there. The importance of this fact – Pappy is a deeply intolerant racist – becomes all too apparent as we’re taken back to the events that led to his death.

We’re then introduced to the rest of the characters brought to life by a wonderful ensemble cast. We see how Henry met his future wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and witness their well to do life together before the US joins the battle in the Second World War. Henry’s brother Jamie is enlisted. Alongside this we’re introduced to Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his family, including his eldest son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). They live a very different life, working the land in the rural south. Ronsel, too, is enlisted to fight in the war.

Henry rents a farmhouse in Missipippi and plans to move there with Laura and Pappy. But when he arrives he discovers he has been conned; the house has been sold and he’s lost his deposit. The family move to live alongside sharecroppers where their lives intertwine with the Jacksons, who work on the McAllan land.

Multiple narratives and voiceovers play out as we watch the McAllans and Jacksons at home in America, and Jamie and Ronsel’s very different experiences of the war in Europe. When they return home Ronsel experiences racism and Jamie PTSD, but the pair grow a deep bond and friendship. This is much of the first half of the film and what then plays out are growing tensions – racial between Pappy and Ronsel in particular, and family between both Harry and Laura, and Pappy and Jamie.

The tension grows as the film builds to its finale, music and cinematography building an ominous atmosphere and the conflicts simmering away to boiling point.

Performances are first class from everyone involved, but particularly from Mulligan who is the heart of the film. It is well constructed, no mean feat considering the multiple timelines and locations, and the large ensemble cast. Voiceovers help to fill in the motivations and feelings of characters, as well as to push forward the narrative, but they never feel overbearing.

It’s a beautiful film to look at too helped no end by the on location filming, but driven by the outstanding cinematography by Rachel Morrison. The notes from Criterion that accompanied my screener described the cinematography as “darkly burnished”, and that feels apt.

There’s a lot to unpick from the narrative but at its core it’s both a tale of the American Dream versus the American Reality, and of intolerance, particularly racial tolerance, but also of the tolerance between relatives.

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees weaves multiple storylines together with bravura to deliver a riveting story that ratchets up the emotions and tension as it builds to an unforgettable climax. Outstanding performances, striking cinematography, a rich sense of place and history, and a score that is at times beautiful and at others ominous, come together to deliver a searing drama.


Mudbound is released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection on 12th February 2024. The transfer is a new 2K digital master which generally looks great; though I found the night scenes to not be as strong, particularly some of the early moments. The film was shot digitally and I find that can be the case with night sequences, but the day scenes look good. I had no problems at all with the audio track – it sounds excellent, dialogue is clear and the music and sound effects shine.


New 2K digital master, supervised by director Dee Rees and director of photography Rachel Morrison, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack

New audio commentary featuring Rees

New documentary featuring Rees, composer Tamar-kali, editor Mako Kamitsuna, and makeup artist Angie Wells

New documentary made on set, featuring members of the cast and crew

Interview with Morrison

New interview with production designer David J. Bomba

Trailer and teaser

English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and English descriptive audio

PLUS: An essay by critic Danielle Amir Jackson

The commentary with Rees provides a wealth of information – though there are plenty of silences where Rees doesn’t talk – including how the film was developed, the cast, certain choices about what to translate to the screen, its perfect timing (when it premiered at Sundance it was just after Donald Trump was elected as President) and much more. You get a real sense of Rees’ motivations and filming style. It’s not the strongest commentary ever but is worth a listen – be prepared for some silences though.

Take it When You Got It is a solid 23 minute documentary featuring Rees and other members of the cast and crew, that looks at the inspirations for the film and the challenges of adapting the book. As well as some decent interviews, there’s some behind the scenes footage which show some of the locations and sets. It’s an above average, though not stellar, making of.

Iron Sharpens Iron features Rees, editor Mako Kamitsuna, composer Tamar-kali and makeup artist Angie Wells. The 16 minute piece is an extension of the prior documentary. It focuses on the female crew who brought the film to life, working with Rees. There’s an interesting section on the music (Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood was a reference point), which I particularly enjoyed. Overall, though briefer, this featurette gets a bit more under the skin of the driving forces and motivations for adapting the book then the slightly longer documentary.

The 28 minute interview with director of photography Rachel Morrison is taken from an interview at the American Society of Cinematographers. There’s some good insights into the colour schemes, the design and colour references Morrison used, the choice to shoot on digital and how the schedule was a big driver for it not being shot on film. The interview delves into some of the technicalities of the shoot too, including the lenses used and why they were chosen for different scenes. There’s a lot packed into the interview and anyone interested in cinematography or the look of the film will find plenty to take away.

The 17 minute interview with production designer David J. Bomba touches on his history with the area where the story took place, the historic photographs which were visual reference points for the design. It’s an excellent piece looking at the design of the film, including how the locations (a local retailer the crew drove past everyday for example) were transformed and used for the film.

Also included are a two minute teaser and similarly length trailer.

I wasn’t provided with the leaflet essay by critic Danielle Amir Jackson

Mudbound is a powerful drama, a timeless story that very much chimes with the times we’re in today. With its wonderful ensemble cast, multiple narratives, richly evocative production design and memorable score, it’s a prestige picture that deserves to more widely seen. The Criterion release will help with that. The disc features some informative extras and a generally strong transfer.


Mudbound – Criterion
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Passionate about film, from the silents to the present day and everything in between, particularly 80s blockbusters, cult movies and Asian cinema.

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