COLUMN: Jason Mitchell gives the performance of the year in “Mudbound”


Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund star in Netflix's 2017 film "Mudbound." The period drama follows two World War II veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Movie Stills Database Buy Photos

Industry journalists have started to make predictions about who will get a nomination forBest Supporting Actor at the 2018 Academy Awards. According to an article on IndieWire, Willem Dafoe from “The Florida Project” and Sam Rockwell from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” are popular choices for the award. But that does not detract from the fact that Jason Mitchell should win the award for his masterful performance as Ronsel Jackson in “Mudbound,” which is currently streaming on Netflix. 

Mitchell’s breakout performance was as the legendary hip hop star Eric “Eazy-E” Wright in the film “Straight Outta Compton.” Despite his engrossing charisma and intelligence, Mitchell did not receive an Oscar nomination. The reaction to that snub played a part in fueling the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. 

Mitchell continued with his excellent acting. His monologue in “Barry” about the housing project where his character grew up was a highlight of the film, but it is his performance as Jackson in “Mudbound” that cements his position as a rising star.

The character Jackson was a sergeant in the army during World War II. After the war, he leaves his German girlfriend to return to his parents’ home in Mississippi. He bristles at the racist treatment he receives and strikes up a friendship with Jamie, a white veteran. 

What makes his performance so exceptional is his mastery of quiet moments. He is great in scenes where he is more demonstrative and emotional, but Mitchell is just as effective when hugging his family goodbye or bonding with Jamie. His every look and minor gesture makes Jackson feel like a complex human being who is worthy of empathy. 

Some shots of Jackson’s face are burned into my brain. I can easily conjure up the combination of confusion, fear and rage that Mitchell expresses in a scene where racists won’t let Jackson leave a store through the front door. I’ll never forget the mixture of rage and pride he wears in another scene when he is about to answer a Klansman’s question. 

Mitchell’s best scene comes near the end of the film. I won’t spoil it, but he perfectly conveys the movie’s theme that you can choose love over hate without a single word. Mitchell brought me to tears with a single hand gesture in that scene. 

There is a good chance that Dafoe or Rockwell will win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but Mitchell’s incredible performance deserves at least a nomination. It proves to its audience that Mitchell is the kind of vivid, empathetic actor who may only come along once in a generation.  

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