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Film reviews: Filth and fury with instant classic Mudbound

Under the yoke: Mudbound charts the struggles of two farming families, one black, one white

THE BIG RELEASE

Mudbound (15)

★★★★★

MUDBOUND is poised to break serious ground. Netflix has forked out $12.5million to distribute this $10m US period indie, banking on it being the company’s first best picture Oscar nominee. And Dee Rees (2011’s Pariah) is hotly tipped to be the first black female director to get a best director nomination — if she doesn’t, expect major Twitter uproar.

Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Mudbound is an epic melodrama about the entangled lives of two struggling farming families — one white, one black — clawing crops out of the same soggy plain in rural Mississippi. ‘When I think of the farm I think of mud… I dreamed in brown,’ intones Carey Mulligan (Suffragette, Shame).

A Mulligan voice-over suggests we’re in for the traditional movie model where the white folk dominate the story and the black family provide background detail — which is more the balance of Hillary Jordan’s original 2008 bestselling novel. Yet Rees’s vision was to give both voices equal time.

What makes her ensemble movie remarkable, aside from the fact she got to make it at all, is that every character is so richly defined and rounded. Be it Mulligan’s old maid turned reluctant farm girl or Mary J Blige’s matriarch who, like her mother before her, ‘didn’t have the luxury of only loving my own children’. Yet the pivotal plot relationship that emerges is between Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) and Garrett Hedlund (his best role yet), who play young traumatised soldiers returning from the war to find a land far more prejudiced and (in the film’s hard-to-watch end scenes) sickeningly violent than the bombed Europe they left behind.

Simultaneously released in cinemas and to stream on Netflix, and co-written by TV writer Virgil Williams (ER and 24), it’s easy to imagine Mudbound unfolding as a long-form telly drama, with each episode shot from a different character’s perspective. Which is not to say that the movie feels crammed. A wonderfully assured blend of sweeping period melodrama and small, telling moments, it’s a world you want to spend more time inside. Which, at a hefty run time of 134 minutes, is no mean feat.

The Verdict

All set for Oscars, Dee Rees’s Deep South melodrama is an instant classic.

Good Time (15)

★★★✩✩

ROBERT PATTINSON finally drives a stake through his image as the moony hunk from Twilight with this convincing, career-shifting performance — his finest to date.

He’s Connie, a twitchy lowlife who is definitely not as streetwise or charming as he thinks he is and who tries to pull off a bank heist with his mentally ill younger brother (Benny Safdie, who co-directs with real-life brother, Josh). What follows is the fallout of that botched job: an adrenaline-spiked night through the scuzzier ’hoods of New York City as Connie fights off loan sharks, cops and sleep. A style-over-substance reboot of Mean Streets, it’s a pacy, edgy watch, gripping in its chase sequences and just about held together by Pattinson’s stellar performance.

Watch out for the always-a-bonus Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) in fleeting bit parts.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (15)

★★★✩✩

THE title screams ‘mid-range Brit flick’ — and so it turns out. However, there’s a sincere tenderness to recommend this rose-tinted Gloria Grahame biopic, as well as two strong leads and a sympathetic female lens.

Few will now remember Grahame, who won an Oscar for The Bad And The Beautiful in 1952 and, as one character puts it, ‘always acts the tart’. This focuses on the faded Hollywood star’s final years (1979-81) in England and her fling with jobbing Scouse actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), on whose memoir this is based.

Annette Bening is terrific as the effervescent Grahame but it’s Bell who works real magic on a role that would otherwise be an adoring (frequently shirtless) puppy dog. There’s also excellent support from a cast of national treasures, including Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave.

Also out

Justice League (12A)

EMBARGO restrictions prevented reviews of the troubled superhero movie running in print today. Enough said.