An epic family saga told from multiple points of view, Dee Rees’ film boasts great performances and writing, as well as a huge heart.
Rees tells of two families, one black (the Jacks) the other white (the McAllans), who are seemingly glued together by the Mississippi mud. Obviously racism drives them apart, particularly in the attitude of Pappy, the almost cartoon bigot at the head of Jason Clarke’s farming family, which also includes Carey Mulligan, who’s at her fragile best here.
The black family is run by Mary J Blige as the mother, almost too good to be true – I had no idea she could act.
What connects most is the twin experiences of the younger sons in WW II – Garret Hedlund plays the white boy solider hero Jamie, but comes back drunk and shellshocked and fatally attracted to his sister in law. The black youth Ronsel, impressively played by Jason Mitchell, enjoys his war as a pilot, sleeping with European girls and feeling a freedom that’s hurled back in his face on his return to the racist south.
It’s all very well marshalled and put together, with the page-turning craft of a novel, each character given room to grow and flourish – every actor rises to the challenge, too. I hope Oscar nominations await this Netflix film – it could well have been a series, I guess, and that could still happen, but Rees gets the tone and the pace just right, building all the way to the shattering final scenes.