Jury still out if Mudbound will benefit from Netflix's feature strategy: Schneller

Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories among Netflix films ready to view on streaming service and in theatres simultaneously.

Dee Rees receives praise from Johanna Schneller for her directorial chops in Mudbound.


Dee Rees receives praise from Johanna Schneller for her directorial chops in Mudbound.

The Show: Mudbound (Netflix)

The Moment: The bruise

“Violence is part and parcel of country life,” narrates Laura (Carey Mulligan), a 1940s homemaker who just moved against her will to rural Mississippi. “You’re forever being assailed by dead things…. You smell them rotting under the house.” As she speaks, we see the dead things she describes.

“Then there are the creatures you kill for food,” she continues, over images of a chicken being beheaded. “Pluck, skin, disembowel. Eat, start again. Kill.”

Cut to a knock on Laura’s door. It’s Vera (Lucy Faust), who can’t be more than 17, and her daughter Alma, who’s about five. They’re barefoot, dirty. A livid bruise fills Vera’s cheek. Laura’s husband fired Vera’s. Vera pleads for his job.

“It’s up to my husband,” Laura says.

“I’m asking you to keep us on,” Vera says.

“It’s not my decision,” Laura says.

“If it was?” Vera asks. Laura just stares at her.

The writing in this film, by Virgil Williams and director Dee Rees, is so good. We see Laura take in Vera’s bruise, but say nothing. We know this sets us up for more violence to come — the violence of poverty, of racism, of war.

Both this and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), from writer/director Noah Baumbach, are part of Netflix’s new feature strategy, which is to stream films and release them in theatres simultaneously.

The strategy is a welcome one: Both are the kind of mid-budget, character-driven fare that’s been elbowed out of theatres by superheroes. But will anyone pay for a movie ticket if they already pay for Netflix? Will the films be Oscar or Emmy contenders, or both? Stay tuned.

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