With this sweeping epic, Dee Rees has created a racially charged melodrama that’s hard to shake.

Taken from Hillary Jordan’s somewhat autobiographical novel, this sumptuous picture centers on two, intertwined families. The McAllens have moved from the City to rural Mississippi just as World War II is beginning. The Jacksons have been leasing part of the land the white family now owns and both families must now find a way to live, separately but together, farming the desolate land.

Naturally, this is a set up dense with opportunity for problems. And while those do arise, there is also a wary peace at play. The women find common ground over the illness of a child, both families have young men who choose to go off to war. Most dramatically, it’s when those soldiers return, very much changed, the fragile treaty between the groups is truly tested.

Rees’ sense of place is undeniable here: the sets, colors of the land and even the music feels not just heartbreakingly beautiful but spot on. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison’s work is sublime. And while the drama can feel a bit too mawkish at times, most is reserved and, therefore, more affecting.

Although the piece feels very much of an ensemble work, each actor delivers memorable work on his or her own. Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan both seem to bend, appropriately, under the weight of their characters’ troubles. Counterparts Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige take us on a whirwind of emotions. Garrett Hedlund and Jonathan Banks give rather stock characters dignity but it’s Jason Mitchell, an actor I find exciting in every film I’ve seen him in, who steals the whole show, breaking and healing our hearts.