(director/writer: Dee Rees; screenwriter:Virgil Williams/novel by Hillary Jordan; cinematographer: Tachel Morrison; editor: Maka Kamitsuna; music: Tamar-kali; cast: Jason Mitchell (Ronsel Jackson), Mary J. Blige(Florence Jackson), Carey Mulligan (Laura McAllan), Rob Morgan (Hap Jackson),Garrett Hedlund (Jamie McAllan), Jason Clarke (Henry McAllan), Jonathan Banks (Pappy McAllan), Kerry Cahill (Rose Tricklebank); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Cassian Elwes, Sally Jo Effenson, Charles D. King, Kim Roth, Carl Effenson, Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaro. Poppy Hanks, Dee Rees, Jennifer Roth, Teddy Schwarzman, Daniel Steinman, Kyle Tekiela, Virgil Williams; Netflix; 2017)

Sees things too simply in black and white only.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Dee Rees (“Pariah”) sees things too simply in black and white only as she sets her intimate story about a racially divided America in backward Mississippi just before, during and after World War II.

It’s based onthe 2008 debut novel by Hillary Jordan, and is co-written by Rees and Virgil Williams. The film centers on two neighboring poor families struggling to survive: one the white farmers (the McAllans); the other black sharecroppers (the Jacksons) who work the land for the white farmers. Three members from each family narrate the story. When Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), the oldest son of Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige), a family of four, goes off to war as part of an all-black Tank Battalion, the couple’s work load increases. Meanwhile the unromantic Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and his insecure sheltered wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan, British actress), who came from a middle-class Memphis families to a rural Mississippi farm, also suffer when his flirty brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), living with them, becomes a war pilot. With Jamie gone, Laura must cope with her incompetent farmer husband, who inwardly rages against the black workers. And then there’s Henry’s openly racist daddy (Jonathan Banks), a Klan-member, who lives with the family. After the war Ronsel and Jamie return from the battle as war heroes but both with war-related problems. Because of their military experience, they form an uneasy bond in the Jim Crow South that their respective families can’t understand or accept. Jamie’s war trauma problems lead him to drink, and Ronsel can’t forget he fell in love with a German woman and found an equality in the army that’s not possible back home.

The perceptive film resonates because of the in-depth performances from the stellar cast and the way Rees slowly lifts things out of the mud to show there’s the possibility of humanity anywhere in the world. It’s a social historical drama that explores how World War II changed the racial dynamics in the deep South, as it slowly (too slowly) builds to its shocking and violent but oversimplified climax. Mudbound refers to laws passed in the South to keep blacks down.