2016 Film

Free State Of Jones Movie Review


Well Alright Alright Alright. Matthew McConaughey is back once more in a dramatic lead role that, whilst incomparable to his other serious adventures, proves a noteworthy addition. It’s long and over bloated, but it nevertheless shares an unbelievable yet true story from America’s Civil War.

We follow the life of Newton Knight, who served as a battlefield medic for the Confederate Army in 1862. After the loss of his young nephew, Knight begins to question his involvement in the war and decides to desert the army to create his own renegade band. Knight’s armed rebellion take on the Confederacy in Jones County. Runaway slaves that have joined Knight’s campaign, and there are tensions on all sides. This is where the film begins to lose touch.

There’s almost too much to cover even though each subplot is of importance. Newton begins to change and define himself with a new set of guiding principles that he desperately struggles to share with others who aren’t as willing to adapt. But we also see issues relating to the post-war settlement and the continued racial segregation. Too many climaxes and resolutions were established before yet another one was introduced and this doesn’t do justice to the significance of sub-plot. For example, just as we’ve reached the conclusion of the civil war which takes up a large section of runtime, we progress onto another major conflict with black voting rights by which at this time you feel exhausted.  It’s in these decisions that I feel director and writer Gary Ross has created a film that feels long and overcrowded from one scene to the next.

The choice to intersperse the saga of Newton’s great-great-great grandson adds even further confusion to the plot. Whilst I understand the reasons behind the choice, to draw a parallel between the same spirit and actions of his great ancestor, ultimately this particular story felt difficult to relate to and out of place in the context of the main plot. For the entire film you throw yourself behind McConaughey, so you can’t be expected to feel the same for someone who shows up for less than 15 minutes – even if it is his kin.

As I said, the story of Jones County and Newton Knight’s forces still seems quite inconceivable. There are some nice performances throughout, in particular by Gugu Mbatha-Raw whose beautiful work brought out subtle emotions. McConaughey is still in fine form but didn’t blow me away like he did in Dallas Buyers Club. Having said all that, I still wouldn’t recommend seeing this as you would have a more enjoyable experience reading and researching yourself into the life of Newton Knight. You might be amazed.


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