Returning WWII Vets Forge Unlikely Friendship across Color Line in Searing Southern Saga
Dateline: Mississippi, 1946, which means many of the Magnolia State’s soldier native sons are making the adjustment back to civilian life after serving overseas during World War II. But the fighting isn’t over for Sergeant Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), a black man reluctantly returning to the repressive Jim Crow system of segregation.
After all, since he had been willing to die for his country, Ronsel figures it’s reasonable to expect equality and all the rights of citizenship, racist traditions notwithstanding. So, when he arrives home, he boldly enters the local general store through an entrance reserved for whites.
But despite still wearing his Army dress uniform, the proud veteran is greeted with a hateful warning snarled by a seething customer. “You’re in Mississippi now, (N-word)! Use the back door, if you don’t want any trouble.” Ronsel grudgingly obliges, ostensibly less fearful of direct harm from the elderly white man than of the veiled threat leveled should he have the temerity to cross the color line again.
Ronsel can’t afford to take any chances, because the intimidating bigot is Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks), the patriarch of the family which owns the farm where his parents (Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan) presently reside as sharecroppers. Pappy’s elder son, Henry (Jason Clarke), subsequently pays the Jacksons a visit, demanding an apology for the transgression.
The plot thickens when Pappy’s younger son, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), a decorated Air Force pilot, comes back to the plantation with some new notions about race relations. He’s suddenly pro-integration after having fought alongside some brave Tuskegee Airmen.
Thus unfolds Mudbound, a searing Southern saga based on Hillary Jordan’s best-selling, first novel of the same name. The movie marks the sophomore offering from director Dee Rees who made her own impressive debut with Pariah in 2011. Here, she coaxes a career performance out of Mary J. Blige, who might very well be remembered come awards season.
How did Nina Simone put it? “Mississippi Goddam!”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, ethnic slurs, brief profanity and disturbing violence
Running time: 134 minutes
Production Studios: Elevate Films / MMC Joule Films / Armory Films / Zeal Media
No Greater Love
Afghan War Documentary Chronicles Combat through Eyes of Grunts on the Ground
In 2010, the 101st Airborne Division’s “No Slack” Infantry Battalion deployed to Afghanistan where it would face its fiercest combat since fighting the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive. Embedded with the grunts was Army Chaplain Justin Roberts, who brought along a camera to preserve for posterity what transpired over the course of the tour.
The upshot of that effort is No Greater Love, one of the best documentaries of the year and, quite frankly, the most moving one this critic has seen about the Afghan War. For it not only chronicles, in real time, the terrible toll exacted by battle, but also the emotional fallout visited on the surviving vets upon their return to the States as they attempt to readjust to private life.
Sadly, about half the men were wounded or killed in action. We see the servicemen pausing to mourn fallen colleagues only momentarily before having to resume their mission. No wonder so many subsequently suffered from PTSD, frequently finding themselves misunderstood and even abandoned by family and friends during the difficult transition from soldiers to civilians.
No Greater Love is not a feel-good flick. Rather, it is a grim reminder of the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces in serve to the country. The film’s title was inspired by John 15:13, the Biblical verse which reads, “There is no greater love than this — that a man should lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus’ words are apropos for this tight-knit, band of brothers bonded together forever, whether overseas or home. Every patriot owes a debt of gratitude to “Chappy” Roberts for such a searing, cinematic memoir illustrating the unfortunate paradox that the road back from war is often far longer than the one there.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor: Atlas Distribution
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Dec. 1, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Wonder Wheel (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking and mature themes) Woody Allen wrote and directed this ensemble drama, set on Coney Island in the Fifties, revolving around a carousel operator (Jim Belushi) whose waitress wife (Kate Winslet), falls for a strapping, young lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). With Juno Temple, Max Casella and Jack Gore.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
24 Hours to Live (R for profanity, drug use and pervasive graphic violence) Action thriller about a recently-deceased CIA agent (Ethan Hawke) who embarks on a revenge-fueled reign of terror after being mysteriously resurrected for just one day. Cast includes Paul Anderson, Rutger Hauer and Qing Xu.
Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield (Unrated) Action-oriented tale of redemption, set in the Ming dynasty, revolving around a disgraced cop’s (Chen Chang) attempt to clear his name by tracking down a fugitive (Mi Yang) who knows that he is innocent. With Yi Zhang, Shih-Chieh King and Jiayin Lei. (In Mandarin with subtitles.)
The Disaster Artist (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s memoir of the same name, recounting the friendship forged in an acting class between Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), and how the two subsequently traveled together to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune. A-list cast includes Seth Rogen, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Sharon Stone, Zach Braff, J.J. Abrams, Melanie Griffith, Judd Apatow and Kate Upton.
Gangster Land (Unrated) Mobster saga recounts the rise of Al Capone (Milo Gibson) through the eyes of his right-hand man, Jack McGunn (Sean Faris), as well as the Chicago turf war which led to the bloody St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Supporting cast includes Jason Patric, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Mark Rolston.
Love Beats Rhymes (R for profanity and sexuality) Inspirational hip-hop drama about an aspiring poet/rapper (Azealia Banks) who finds her voice with the help of a demanding professor (Jill Scott). With Common, Method Man and Lorraine Toussaint.
Naples ’44 (Unrated) World War II docudrama recounting the exploits of a British spy (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Italy near the end of the conflict. featuring archival footage of Alan Arkin, Ernest Borgnine and Keenan Wynn. (In Italian and English with subtitles.)
The New Radical (Unrated) Political documentary featuring interviews with young anarchists employing a variety of high-tech methods to further their anti-establishment agenda.
The Shape of Water (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and frontal nudity) A suspense thriller, set in 1962 Baltimore, about a janitor (Sally Hawkins) working in a top secret government laboratory whose life is changed forever when she and a colleague (Octavia Spencer) make a shocking discovery. Support cast includes Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg.
The Tribes of Palos Verdes (R for drug use, sexuality and pervasive profanity) Dysfunctional family drama chronicling how a teenager (Cody Fern) turns to drugs while his twin sister (Maika Monroe) takes refuge in surfing to cope with their parents’ (Jennifer Garner and Justin Kirk) disintegrating marriage. With Alicia Silverstone, Joely Fisher, Noal Silver and Milo Gibson.