Free State of Jones is yet another film in The McConaissance even though some recent choices have jeopardise its continuation. Free State of Jones may have gotten a lukewarm critical and commercial reception but it’s a better film than it was given credit for. It’s one of the more interesting films about slavery to come out in the wake of 12 Years a Slave and is a billion times better than The Birth of a Nation.
Matthew McConaughey plays the real life Newton Knight who deserts the Confederacy but was only serving as a medic, he is morally opposed to slavery due to his faith. He soon is on the run from the confederate and shacks up with mostly escaped slaves. Knight is also disgusted by the Confederacy who take crops and livestock for taxes so normal folk starve and so on. He soon is at the odds with the Confederacy and forms the “Free State of Jones” where black and white live relatively peacefully for the late 1800s. It deals with the period during the American civil war and the immediate after math.
He is at odds with even some of his own men who are still racist but eventually wins some of the men over to his thinking. He soon falls in love with the black woman Rachel who he teaches to read and fathers a child with. His wife who he was forced to leave after going on the run shows up seeking shelter and they take her in. She seems to be nonplussed by the fact he is now with black woman who is pretty damn progressive for now nevermind then!
The film inserts bits of a trial of his great-great-great grandson who may be 1/8 black so his marriage is now considered invalid in the state of Mississippi. The Southern laws over interracial marriage is better depicted in Loving which is out now. It seems unnecessary and seems like it’s something to bookend the film instead of cut fairly randomly into the film.
The film is awfully baggy and moves at a pace of 2 hours and 20 minutes and I’m sure if you trimmed out the flash forwards it would move better. It’s however a story of the civil war and slavery I didn’t know about. The film’s story is vital in this age of Trump because what Knight did is what the principles of the US are supposed to be. People often assumed after 13th amendment to the constitution that slavery stopped but it was still happening all over the south under the guise of “apprenticeships”.
McConaughey is great as usual even though it’s a role he could do in his sleep, he is in such a roll at the moment that even the awful The Sea of Trees (and still unreleased in the UK) doesn’t seem able to stop him. The film seriously lacks a solid supporting cast however, they needed a couple more name character actors to play off McConaughey. However Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington who is kind of the leader of the slaves is a standout here as he is in Moonlight, which he is wowing critics and audiences with at the moment.
Free State of Jones may have disappeared with disappointing critically and commercially reception when it came out in theatres but hopefully it will find a receptive audience on home video and VOD. It’s certainly not the great film it hoped to be or could’ve been but check it out, it’s pretty extraordinary story which I knew nothing about before I watched it. The disc’s sore feature is a doc on the history of Jones Country which is brief but an interesting watch.