Free State of Jones: Film Review

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I usually quite like American Civil War movies; I find them fascinating and sad all at once so it’s absolutely baffling to me that Free State of Jones was none of those things. It had some very good and emotive scenes, but they were so bogged down by slow pacing that I no longer cared.


Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a farmer from Mississippi who deserts the war, where he was fighting for the Confederates, when his son is killed. Back home with his wife Serena (Keri Russell), he helps locals fight back against the officials, who raid their homes and take all the food/livestock for the war effort. As a wanted man, he flees to a swamp, when he lives with escaped slaves and forms a relationship Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The community grows with more deserters and they become an army, taking on the Confederacy.

The biggest issue with Free State of Jones is that it tries to cover too much ground and is far too slow-moving. Once the war was over and the slaves are declared free men, I thought the tale would be over but it goes on so much longer – Newt continues to fight for racial equality due to his friendship with Moses (Mahershala Ali) and while this section contains some of the film’s most poignant scenes, it felt like it was running on past its natural end point and then the actual ending is a damp squib.

The story is also interspersed with a court case against Rachel and Newt’s son about whether he is white or black and if his marriage to a white woman is lawful. While this is a true story and comes to a shocking conclusion, it felt cumbersome, unnecessary and oddly placed throughout.

McConaughey was fine but his loooong, mumbling drawl saps energy out of proceedings. Mbatha-Raw and Russell weren’t given a ton to do but I was so amazed how cool they were with each other despite being ‘married’ to the same man (Rachel couldn’t legally marry him) but my favourite was Ali. He was the emotional heart of the film and his story is the only one that touched me.

Free State of Jones tells a remarkable story and there are some powerful moments such as the opening battle, which is gruesome and bloody, his son’s death, and the many standoffs between his group and the Confederates, but there is just too much waffle in between those, polluting its poignancy and killing the energy, the heart. I did struggle to concentrate with this, and I kept thinking it was about to end and it didn’t so by the last half hour I was so done. It needed a serious trimming because 2 hours and 19 minutes was totally unnecessary.

In cinemas today 

Comments

  1. I saw it. I don’t know how you could have failed to be moved. The audience I was with sat in stunned silence when it was over. A movie like a kick in the gut. The line “they’ll arrest me but they’ll kill you” resonates with BlackLivesMatter. There isn’t a more relevant movie for this election.

    • Hannah Wales says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with all your points which is why I was so frustrated that the film didn’t centre around those themes – it was too much about Newt. I wanted to see more about Moses. What happens to him and the whole voting issues still moved me but not in the powerful, poignant way it should have done because we had to sit through soooo much boring stuff about Newt before that. I truly wanted to feel more but I was just fed up of the slow pacing of the film by that point.

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