Free State of Jones (2016) Review

Director: Gary Ross

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, War

Runtime: 139 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Perhaps trying to cover too much ground for one film, Free State of Jones tells the true story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate deserter during the American Civil War who led a local insurrection against the Southern government. It has good intentions and an undeniably intriguing plot, but this probably would’ve been better as a mini-series or two separate movies.

I’m not sure that I would describe the flick’s pacing as slow, but the storytelling lacks energy much of the time. Lots of stuff takes place, but things never get kicked into overdrive. The action scenes are reasonable, although there are a few unconvincing bullet impacts on people (probably achieved using computer effects, rather than traditional squibs). It should be noted that this isn’t an action picture, so don’t expect battles galore.

Free State of Jones accurately shows who won the American Civil War…and who won its peace. The film’s politics interestingly parallel the populist insurgency taking place in the U.S. at the time of its release. It will probably please people on both sides of the aisle, with gun rights and Bibles for the right and class consciousness and racial justice for the left.

Overall, the motion picture serves as an important history lesson, shedding some light on a subject that may not get enough coverage. It won’t blow you away, but it’s watchable. It’s sincere, which counts for a lot, but I wish it was more consistently engaging.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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