Mudbound is clearly an adaptation of a novel, because you can see a lot of the seams that often come with such transfers. For starters, there is way too much voiceover -- my "show not tell" flag was on high alert almost immediately, and I questioned if some of the information revealed during voiceover even added very much at all. I also think there's a lot of plot elements stuffed into one movie -- again, something that can often plague literary adaptations trying to cram too much into two hours. (At one point, there's a voiceover mention about a character who died, and I thought -- WHO? I was supposed to be caring about THAT character?) As a result, I can't say that I thought the movie had the strongest narrative through-line from beginning to end.
All of that said, I still think there is much to like about Mudbound. The character dynamics, in particular, are quite compelling, as the members of the two central families (one black, one white) connect with each other in surprising ways. The Blige/Mulligan relationship seems to stem directly from the way both women are treated by their husbands, as if the limitations imposed on both because of gender allow them to bridge the racial divide, and the Hedlund/Mitchell bond of course grows out of the fact that they're the only two veterans in town, and thus understand each other in ways that the members of their own family (and race) cannot.
I also thought the movie did a pretty impressive job of delineating the very specific attitude each character has toward the opposite race. The four major white characters (Mulligan, Clarke, Hedlund, and Banks) each treat the characters of color in a different way, and the three major black characters (Mitchell, Morgan, and Blige) respond to whiteness in similarly unique fashion. That's a pretty nuanced approach to race relations for one movie, and also one that's specifically attuned to the 1940s era in which the film is set -- an era in which blacks were gaining in autonomy, but one in which the battles of the civil rights era were still a ways off.
All of this builds to a climax that's obviously moving, with a message that is certainly bleak -- despite the best efforts of the more well-meaning white characters, hate is a powerful force, and to some extent the better among us will always be trying to reverse that damage. But there is also hope that we can overcome as well -- the last shot is clearly designed to be a tear-jerker, and I can't deny it totally put me away.
Netflix really should be trying to push this into the Adapted Screenplay category. (And by all accounts, they are -- Netflix, along with Amazon and Focus -- are the studios that have most been on top of early screenings and campaign events this year, so it's clear they want to play with the big boys in the Oscar game.) But something has to fill those screenplay slots that isn't Call Me By Your Name, and this strikes me as the kind of thoughtful period drama that could very well place, assuming voters just don't decide to blackball Netflix completely.
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