After ten months of literal crap - I'm calling 2017 one of the worse years for quality movie production ever - we finally start getting some films that reflect some of the great old classic films that let the acting, directing and cinematography do the work and not the pyrotechniques and CGI.


Dee Rees, whose last theatrical release was the outstanding "Pariah" goes back in time to Jim Crow South and the World War II era. This is a look at the ebb and flow of social justice and the tug of war the Greatest Generation endured with itself. New thoughts colliding with old traditions. The rise and fall then reconsiderations of hatred and bigotry.


Dee Rees subtly discusses what Spike Lee harped on in "Miracle In Santa Ana". Her message of racial prejudice is tapped out with a jeweler's precision chisel while Lee chose a sledgehammer. Yes, in the middle of World War II, Europeans treated black GI's better than they had ever been treated in the United States. And when they returned home from victory in Europe, they returned not to a heroes welcome, but to the same laws of segregation that were in place before they left to fight "The white man's war."

But Rees takes the Hillary Jordan novel and places everyone in the same basket. That basket is a acres and acres of fertile farmland that is in a constant state of mud. And, just like a car, truck bicycle and most beasts - when the mud is deep, you're going to get stuck.


The film centers on two families - one white, the McAllans; one black, the Jacksons. The McAllan's are headed by Henry (Jason Clarke) and his loyal wife Laura (Carey Mulligan). They aren't from Mississippi, they relocate there from their comfy home in Memphis, TN. Henry buys the land and farm with their savings, then springs it on Laura and teh rest of the family which includes his more free-spirited brother Jamie (Garret Hedlund) and his racist, hateful father Pappy (Jonathan Banks).


The Jackson's are headed by Hap (Rob Morgan) and includes his wife Florence (Mary J Blige) and his son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). They are tenant farmers on the farm that has just been bought by the McAllans.

Henry's idea was to rent a home in the nearby town and simply collect rent from the tenants. The plan quickly goes awry when the guy he paid money to rent the home turns out to be a swindler; the folks living there have no intention of moving out. At this point we see learn what kind of man Pappy is when he lays into Henry as being a natural born sucker.


Jamie has no intention of living on the farm and enlists in the Army Air corp as a bomber pilot. Ronsel conversely joins the Army and winds up in General Patton's 3rd Army - the Mechanized 761st Tank Battalion, the first all black tank unit. While in the service Ronsel and Jamie have profound experiences that change their point of view concerning race.


When they return from their respective tours, after the European arena, they come home to small town folk who wonder why they are so buddy-buddy which puts presure on both families. Tempers flair fueled by Pappy's seething hatred of black folk. Whe Pappy learns that Ronsel engaged in certain activity whileabroad, he rallies the rest of the white folk to act. This is never good, but Rees treats it with kid gloves while keeping the cinematographer Rachel Morrison never allows the audience to wander too far from the mud.


To Dee Rees' credit, it was great to have a feature film bring light to the 761st Tank Battalion and their battle victories which includes the Battle of the Bulge. She also made mention of the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails briefly while not lingering too long on the subject. She got terrific performances from the ensemble but especially Blige and Banks.


While Mulligan is convincing as the more liberal wife, Banks lays it on thick as the disgusted bigot. His hatred oozes from his pores. Blige nails the logical but strong black wife who dutifully hangs in there.


"Mudbound" is one of the best ten films of 2017 with kudos to Mary J Blige as a support actress, Jonathan Banks as Support actor, Dee Rees as director and Rachel Morrison for cinematography. Bank on it!   -- GEOFF BURTON