Director Dee Rees makes the jump from small, independent movies with the deeply moving "Mudbound," a sprawling epic set in the rural South that follows the intertwining fates of two families -- one black and the other white -- before, during, and immediately following World War II.
Henry and Laura McAllan (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) leave a comfortable life in Memphis to head to the Mississippi Delta, but the move doesn't work out as planned when Henry is swindled out of his deposit on a home and forced to move the family into a cramped farmhouse instead.
Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige), along with their four children, are the sharecroppers who work the land now owned by the McAllans. As the title suggests, the McAllans and the Jacksons are bound to the land, but also each other as a result. Despite their mutual dependence, society finds a way to remind the two families at every opportunity that they are anything but equal.
Most compelling of all is the friendship that forms between Henry's brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson's eldest son, Ronsel (an excellent Jason Mitchell). Both come home from the war changed men, and struggle to readapt to a place that's remained very much the same. Their comradery doesn't sit well with the town -- particularly Henry's racist crank of a father (Jonathan Banks) -- and Ronsel quickly develops a simmering anger at the country he fought for, but still refuses to treat him like a citizen.
Working with a broad canvas and a fantastic ensemble of actors, Rees finds both tragedy and heartfelt beauty in a story that offers just as much insight into America's past as it does its present. It's one of the year's best films.