This year’s running theme at Sundance seemed to be films that start strong but derail before the end credits. Filled with great actors giving stellar performances, ‘Mudbound’ got the memo and nullifies their achievements in the last act.
Based on a 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan, one could easily assume that the movie’s source material was a mid-1900s American classic from the way its first act is structured. We’re introduced to a group of central characters from different walks of life, all of which have a prominent voice in the narrative. Each time one is introduced, his or her inner monologue takes over and explains the character’s feelings.
Jason Clarke plays a man who has always wanted a farm, so he buys a remote one without telling his wife in advance and moves his family there. Carey Mulligan is his wife, a voiceless woman who submits to her husband’s will. Garrett Hedlund plays Clarke’s younger brother. Their father (Jonathan Banks) joins them for the move because Clarke is the favored son, while Hedlund is the disappointment. Rob Morgan is the head farmhand, and Mary J. Blige is his strong wife. Jason Mitchell is their reliable oldest child.
When World War II breaks out, Hedlund and Mitchell’s characters each go to fight – Hedlund by plane and Mitchell by tank. While they’re away, the farm goes down the drain. Rains turn it into a muddy mess. Morgan’s character breaks his leg, so his wife and children are left to tend to the farm. The film follows them through one disaster after another. We see how they tackle their trials. After the two soldiers return safely, they fight new battles that they didn’t expect to come home to.
The first half of the film is very strong and well-written, but the second half erodes quickly. It takes a sad turn from drama to melodrama. Even the performances grow over-the-top. It’s disappointing to look back at where it started and see where it ends. ‘Mudbound’ is a potential masterpiece that just falls apart.