RELEASED 2016 RUNTIME 139 MIN LANGUAGE ENGLISH DIRECTION GARY ROSS SCREENPLAY GARY ROSS STARRING MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY, GUGU MBATHA-RAW, MATHERSHALA ALI, KERI RUSSELL, BRIAN LEE FRANKLIN, JACOB LOFLAND, BRAD CARTER, SEAN BRIDGERS, BILL TANGRADI, THOMAS FRANCIS MURPHY MUSIC NICHOLAS BRITELL
Free State Of Jones is the true story of Newton Knight who during the American Civil War fights racism inside the Confederate borders and founds the Free State Of Jones, a self proclaimed area where black men and white man live next to each other independently from the rest of the country.
I was looking forward to this, not only because Matthew McConaughey stars in it, but also because I’m a sucker for historical dramas.
This one takes you to the deep south of Louisiana during the Civil War and starts with a scene showcasing a brutal battle between the Confederate army and the Union. The realistic props, costumes and environments certainly get you into the mood right away. From there the movie takes you into the countryside and the swamps where the meat of the movie takes place.
PERFORMANCES & CHARACTERS
In simple words, this movie is a biopic showcasing the persona of Newton Knight and his accomplishments as a historical figure. Matthew McConaughey does his southern thing that we have grown accustomed to. Normally I would say “what a great performance”. But the fact that we have seen him play these kind of roles a lot recently, didn’t really flash me. I don’t want to discredit him, but in order to surprise me he as an actor has to do something different, learn a Boston accent maybe?
I don’t know, I’m rambling. Of course he is great in the role!
Even though the movie focuses on Matthew McConaughey’s character, there is a great supporting cast as well. One person that sticks out is Mahershala Ali. I don’t think I have ever seen him in anything before, which is a shame. He has a good presence in the film and the relationship between his character and Newton Knight is one of the highlights, especially considering the subject matter.
There is bunch of other characters that are worth mentioning. Particularly the “villains”. Bill Tangradi and Thomas Francis Murphy play a confederate lieutenant and general respectively, and do a very nice job. Not sure if these figures really were that despicable in reality, but for purpose of storytelling they are great additions. Too bad they aren’t present tovery the end of the movie, because as the story progresses, we skip ahead in time to cover more ground of Newton Knight’s life.
And there we come to one of the criticisms I have about the film. It seems like somewhere at the 2/3 mark the film moves quickly through events and looses focus. The middle chunk where it concentrates on the struggle of Knight and his troops defending the free state in the swamps against the Confedrate army is fantastic. I would have liked to see an entire movie ajust about that. Instead we get a pretty generic bio pic story structure, which isn’t bad, but very by the numbers.
Another criticism I have is a subplot which is being sprinkled throughout showcasing Brain Lee Franklin playing Newton Knight’s great-great-great grandson in front of court trying to defend himself for marrying a white woman even though he is 1/8 of black descent and therefore considered black under Mississippi law (yeah, wtf?!).
I know what the filmmakers try to convey, but it’s executed very poorly. There isn’t enough there to make it a big part of the narrative because it lacks the connective tissue. I was waiting for a big reveal at the which would have made me go “Ohhhh and ahhhh!”. Instead the payoff isn’t really that much of a mindblow. They should have just left it out because it comes off jarring every time the movie cuts to that section. It doesn’t happen very often, so it doesn’t really hurt the enjoyment of film, but it’s definitely noticeable and takes you out of the main plot.
If you love biopics, Free State Of Jones is definitely a must see. It tells a fascinating story happening during the American Civil War with a good cast and good plot, which sometimes feels a little too by the numbers and gets distracted by an unnecessary subplot.