Top Ten Movies of 2017 — Number Five

5 mudbound

Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees, does heavy lifting. Set largely in nineteen-forties Mississippi, the adaptation from a Hillary Jordan novel (Rees and Virgil Williams are co-credited on the screenplay) depicts the hardships endured by two connected families on a sprawling, struggling farm, paying acute attention to the differing experiences of the white landowners and the black workers who toil there, hoping against hope that they’ll eventually scrape together the resources to find their way out. The divide is even more stark for Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), returning from military service in World War II. The respect he found while serving as a tank commander is strip mined away by virulent bigots intent on putting him in his place. Only a fellow veteran (Garrett Hedlund) according him due honor, a gesture that itself heightens the dangers against Ronsel. And that only begins to get at the narrative layers of the film, which Rees handles with astonishing adeptness. The different narrative streams all shape the terrain of the film, creating a full, compelling fiction. The film is about racism, but it doesn’t settle for pure villainy pummeling the oppressed with a few pained, benevolent standers-by. Instead, it shows the wide, disheartening range of prejudice, including the insidious sort practiced by those who feel they proceed through life without poisonous hate. The film is powerful, painful, and beautifully acted. (In addition to the performers already mentioned, Carey Mulligan is a standout.) Rees has made an emotional epic that expressed the deepest wounds of the nation’s soul.

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