Mudbound–Mired in the Mississippi Delta

 

Mudbound the movie

Set in the Deep South in1939 and then fast-forwarding to World War II, Mudbound is an epic of two families–one white (McAllan) and one black (Jackson)–who are severely constrained by the Jim Crow laws and customs in Alabama. The two McAllan brothers, Henry and Jamie, epitomize Cain and Abel. The Jacksons are sharecroppers bravely facing the disconnect between their dreams and the dangerous obstacles set before them.

Mudbounds main plot focuses on Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedland) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), decorated war heroes who, upon returning, are misfits in their hometown. As their friendship grows tighter, so do the menacing threats surrounding them. One subplot moves into sibling rivalry between Jamie and his brother; another into Henry’s brutal and defeated temperament, which affects his marriage to Laura (Carrie Mulligan).

Mudbound challenges our concepts of friendship, family, and marriage. Sometimes the story is predictable, even clichéd. There are also difficult scenes to watch. Yet, the retelling of this story is crucial, lest we forget. The military, out of necessity, gave responsibility to both black and white soldiers, albeit in segregated troops. It is the “welcome home” racism that is portrayed in all its hypocrisy and disrespect for heroes of color. ln addition, the French and Belgian openness in attitude and behavior towards black soldiers are in stark contrast to what Ronsel Jackson has to face in Alabama.

A history to remember, Mudbound showcases superb acting from an ensemble cast of up-and-coming actors who engage us enough that we can overlook a script that should have been better. In an unexpected scene-stealing performance, Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop and soul, is virtually unrecognizable, as Florence Jackson. She gives as much soul to her subtle, heart-wrenching performance as the best, more experienced actresses.   A Netflix Original, this new addition to the genre focused on racial inequality deserves to be watched by all interested in history and family saga.

The Siege at Jadotville–The Luck of the Irish

The Siege at Jadotville movie

Based on true events, The Siege at Jadotville (a Netflix original) is a shocking reenactment of a heroic battle that was meticulously covered up for over 40 years. In 1961 Dag Hammarskjold, United Nations Secretary General, sent 150 Irish Defence Forces, non-combatant peace keepers, to defend the fledgling secessionist state of Katanga (later to be part of the Republic of the Congo) against an overwhelming contingent of ex-Foreign Legion French and Katangese mercenaries. Tshombe (Katanga’s leader) had been hired by powerful international mining companies in Jadotville to send mercenaries to defend their interests.   En route to negotiate cease-fire conditions between the UN and the mercenary contingent, Hammarskjold dies in an airplane crash. The Siege at Jadotville retells the against-all-odds battle by inexperienced, ill-equipped Irish troops and the aftermath. Political posturing from both the UN and the mining corporations begin shortly thereafter.

Reminiscent in action scenes of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, The Siege at Jadotville thankfully places a bit less emphasis on the bloodshed.  The ensemble cast is convincing as untested army soldiers thrown into a literal baptism by fire.

The pace of the story is tightly written and the action sequences are superb, with a suspenseful arc of hope, determination, frustration, despair and resolution.  With superb cinematography, The Siege at Jadotville is a well-crafted sleeper of a war film, with an untold history lesson for all of us.

Note: Neither the UN nor Ireland acknowledged the battle until a review in 2004 by the Irish Minister of Defence at the insistence of retired Jadotville veterans who had been fighting for recognition ever since the battle. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Irish government awarded a Presidential Unit Citation to “A” Company,[ the first in Ireland’s history, to the veterans of Jadotville.

“The Fall” (mini-series) — “Prime Suspect” Revisited

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In this Netflix Original production distributed by BBC Ireland, (not to be confused with the 2006 movie of the same name–see August 16, 2011 review),  the story unfolds, not as a mystery to be solved, but as a contrast between two obsessive personality types. One is Detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson of “X-Files” and “Bleak House” fame), called in to solve a murder.  The other is the psychopath leading a double life, not unlike “Dexter”. Interestingly, it is the seeming normalcy of the psychopath, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, soon to be  known as the actor in the upcomng “Fifty Shades of Grey”),  who appears to have the more balanced life: an effective  grief counselor with a supportive wife and two loving kids to whom he is devoted. The detective, meanwhile, is lonely, absorbed by her work even when eating,  and seems to engage only in brief sexual encounters with no emotional commitment (not unlike the unforgettable Helen Mirren’s character in “Prime Suspect”).  A strong and no-holds-barred dialogue about the hypocrisy towards women’s sexual behavior in contrast with that of men runs throughout.

The five-part series, set in the dark landscape of Belfast, explores the motivation and precise technical prowess of a sexual predator with a clinical voyeurism at once chilling and puzzling.  It is deeply disturbing to watch the antagonist shampoo his five-year old daughter’s hair after a sinister “kill” involving a bathtub scene.  Furthermore,  the little girl is subtly sexualized in a deeply unsettling way. Spector’s “normal” life of teacher conferences,  spousal harmony, and empathy for those he is counseling can be viewed in two ways:  as a life he would like to maintain because it could heal his many unknown wounds, or as the life which allows him to commit his notorious and heinous crimes.

In the chilling ending, after three murders and a cat-and-mouse game between Gibson and Spector, we are left on the edge of our seats at the inconclusive final scene:  unfinished business that may leave viewers dissatisfied.   This viewer would have liked either a tighter connection between subplots and murders, or at least a backstory on both of the main characters.  Neither happens, though the scenes and some of the dialogue are absolutely stunning.   Nonetheless, “The Fall” is riveting and addicting.

Netflix has another hit in this miniseries.   I can’t wait for the six-part Season 2, to be broadcast on Netflix this coming autumn!