This may be a historical drama but it’s message about racism still holds true today despite the fact that the film doesn’t communicate it as effectively as it could have. At the root of the story are two families, one white and one black, the McAllans and the Jacksons. Henry McAllan (Clarke) had aspirations to be a farmer whose struggles were taking their toll on his wife Laura (Mulligan). The Jacksons’ ancestors used to work their land as slaves who now rented their land and had struggles of their own as they worked to one day own their land.
As the first half of the film focused on both families, we got to learn about to each of them on a personal level through a series of narrations from each of their perspectives. They were an interesting addition but the film perhaps relied on them a little too much as they often brought up the obvious. Each family had a member who participated in WWII with Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell). The war affected their Mississippi community in different ways after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The film would cut to both of them either operating fighter planes or tanks, however, it was never long enough to make a connection to either.
Over time, the McAllans and the Jacksons grew closer to one another once Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) began to work for the McAllans when her husband Hap (Rob Morgan) was injured. When the war was over, Jamie and Ronsel came back home but Ronsel quickly figured out that things did not change for him. After this, the story became more about them as they bonded over their experiences in the war. Each suffered from PTSD and they were helping each other get through it.
Jamie’s suffering led him to turn to alcohol which proved to not be the greatest solution, causing a rift with his family. Their races were not an issue for Jamie because all that he saw was a fellow soldier. After an adjustment period, the two became friends and were definitely fun to watch together. Unfortunately for Jamie and Ronsel, the rest of their community were not as fond of their relationship and the sad reality of their situation finally set in and the story took a stark and powerful third turn before reaching the finish line and a happier ending.
The acting was the best part of the film with the whole cast providing great performances but the two who will probably get the most recognition are Mitchell and Blige. Mitchell as Ronsel embodied the frustration and the range of emotions behind a black soldier being persecuted after returning home from war. Blige was a nice surprise and a powerful force as Florence whose nuanced performance, despite being relegated to the background, spoke volumes.
Overall, this is a good film with a powerful and well-acted, although not groundbreaking, story about racism that perhaps takes too long to get going for some with a slower but still compelling first half setting up a better second half.Read more reviews at keithlovesmovies.com