Matthew McConaughey stars in Civil War drama based on a true story. A Confederate Soldier/Nurse becomes convinced that the American Civil War holds no honour for him nor anyone else, and when his nephew is conscripted and sent to the front lines, he decides to desert. His nephew dies in his arms and Newton Knight heads back to his homestead to bring his young family member back to rest. When he gets home he finds that corruption has gripped his home county under the guise of paying for the war. As he stands against this corruption he’s forced to flee into the swamps meeting up with runaway slaves and fellow deserters. During this historical tale we travel to 1950’s Mississippi where one of Newton’s great great grandchildren is on trial for marrying a woman outside his race.
The American Civil War is a fascinating subject if you get the chance to read about it, the upheaval and the carnage that that generation endured for many reasons, although slavery was one of the main reasons. There are many wonderful books that cover what happened on the political front, and on the battlefield, but these books aren’t the ones you should rush to. The books you should find and because I don’t have internets while writing this review I can’t tell you which ones they are, but there are a few books out there that have collected the letters written by Soldiers on both sides back to their loved ones. They will bring you to tears.
So Matthew plays Newton and he’s fine in the role, the problem that I have with this film, for the most part, is that although it has a long running time at nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t fill the time well enough. Everyone acts quite well, the production values are spot on, costuming is just amazing. But it feels as though this story would have been better served being a mini series event. We don’t get to know what exactly the Free State of Jones means, there is a brief piece where Newton reads out a list of things that the Free State should stand for, but there is a lacking of impact. At one point it feels like I’m watching Robin Hood Price of Thieves when Newton is rallying his followers to go take from the rich to feed the poor.
The story in the 1950’s is brushed upon a few times but doesn’t get enough traction to be powerful enough. It’s sad because there is a story there that could fill an entire movie by itself. Which is why I believe we need to bring back the Miniseries events. This should have been stretched out for 4 hours of TV with more characters been properly developed.
It’s not that Free State of Jones is a bad film, for the most part it’s well acted with great production values, but you get the feeling that the film makers didn’t know exactly which part of this extraordinary American they wanted to concentrate on. There is a problem with the editing as we jump around to different parts of the story. I’ve got to ask myself if there is more footage for this film as if Batman Superman Dawn of Justice can bring out an ultimate edition then why can’t this historical epic get an ultimate edition too. As with so many of my school reports back in the day Free State of Jones gets an A for effort but could try harder.
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Leonard Hartman (story), Gary Ross
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali