Free State of Jones: Remarkable True Civil War Story Lacks Heart
Keri RussellMatthew McConaughey
Action & AdventureThriller
While it may offer a relatively new angle on the already much-explored chapter of the American history that is the Civil War, there is an obvious lack of substance to be witnessed in Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones; an interesting and a sometimes moving historical drama which tells the true story of a remarkable character, but fails to offer the weight or the cinematic grandeur needed to tell it right.
Set in year 1863, Free State of Jones tells the story of Newton Knight (McConaughey); a humble Mississippi farmer who is fighting in the Civil War, but who has always strongly opposed the idea of slavery and the general ways of the Confederate Army, which finds them catering to the interests of the rich. After a tragic event on the battlefield, Knight decides to desert the army and leave the fighting.
Initially returning home to Jones County, but with the Confederates out to hunt down the deserter, his stay is short-lived with Knight soon fleeing his hometown – with wife Serena (Russell) leaving town altogether – and heads out to hide in the swamps. It’s there that he meets a group of escaped slaves, including Moses (Ali) and Rachel (Mbatha-Raw), with whom he soon forms a very close bond with. Tired of the continuous abuse of local farmers from the side of the Confederates, Newton decides that it’s time to rise up and form a rebellion.
The blood and the violence of war is portrayed with a great deal of authenticity throughout the picture, capturing the gruesomeness of combat with great accuracy and fantastic attention to detail. Well-crafted and wonderfully photographed, the emotional heart of the film,however, is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag with Ross battling to find the necessary focus and the emotional beat to make the story unfolding on screen matter as a piece of storytelling rather than as a historical account. Covering about a decade of Newton Knight’s life and his tireless fight for justice, Free State of Jones boasts an expansive story which although, interesting, is sadly never offered the space or time to be told.
Suitably Southern and comfortably rugged, McConaughey gives an acceptable performance as the tireless rebel, though he never really breaks out his best, whilst Ali, on the other hand, steals the show. This, unfortunately, is something that we cannot say about the picture itself; a workable and an adequately gruesome historical drama which lacks the drive and the emotional oomph to stand out from other, similar and better-told tales.