Set during the Civil War, Free State of Jones tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.Written by
I enjoyed the movie and would have rated it an 8 but for some pacing issues, including how they awkwardly managed the flash forward scenes to the sub-plot with Newton Knight's descendant.
I'm not a history buff, but also not opposed to learn about compelling stories, and this was one. Who knew that there was this sub-war going on in the middle of the Civil War, or about this Lincoln-esque southern guy willing to fight the good fight? Knight was an inspiring guy who somehow saw forest through the trees and had courage to do right in a world with wrong going on all around him.
The acting was quite good. I particularly enjoyed fresh faces like Mahershala Ali (Moses) and Gugu-Mbatha Raw (Rachel). The script was not full of period clichés or overly polish, things I appreciated in a movie like Tombstone, but could have been a distraction in Free State which fortunately kept it real.
Matthew McConaughey was excellent in the lead as the gritty Newton Knight. Not as gritty as his brother Rooster, but the grit suits him. Very believable. But this is not a movie that shines due to his good looks, rather from his good acting.
Some of the more critical reviews made comment about FSoJ as "hopelessly adrift", "trips over its own themes as it stumbles aimlessly," "is confusing", and "It's not that the story itself is hard to follow, but Gary Ross' script and direction fail to make clear key personal relationships in the film, and throughout its 2 ¼ hours, it makes the audience wonder where the story is going and whether this movie has much of a point at all."
Wow! All I can tell you is that I did not know the story, and there were some moments where it fumbles, but I kept up with it just fine. For me the movie's strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. Definitely not an average or sub-par movie — the subject matter alone puts it ahead of so many other films.
At times I questioned the casting on some of the supporting roles, but that may be Hollywood conditioning thing, and on reflection this cast probably showed what people were like back in that day.
After the movie I read up on the Davis Knight story. He was the great grandson who was embattled in a miscegenation trial in 1940s Mississippi. He was 1/8 African American, looked white (in the movie) and married a white woman; a crime back in the day in Mississippi. Have to wonder why they didn't prosecute the white wife. Hmm.
It goes to show you how much times have changed: now days in Mississippi Batman can marry Superman, dogs can marry cats, and democrats can marry republicans. You won't see any of that in Raqqa. It's a crazy mixed up world folks.
To sum things up, it's not a perfect movie, and there were some issues making it hard to track at times, but a fascinating sub-plot to the real Civil War, it kept my interest, and the acting was good. Any movie that has me reading up on its story after the film has got to be worth seeing.
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