Title – Free State of Jones (2016)
Director – Gary Ross (Pleasantville)
Cast – Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Kerri Russell, Sean Bridgers, Jacob Lofland
Plot – The true story of one time confederate soldier Newton Knight (McConaughey) turned dissatisfied deserter who decided enough was enough as he leads a rebellion filled with fellow deserters and slaves against the tyranny enacted upon them by those wealthier and those in the current corrupt government.
“No man ought to tell another man what he’s gotta live for or what he’s got to die for”
Review by Eddie on 27/03/2017
A hugely unfocussed Civil War/slavery epic that never allows the audience true access into the importance of what is transpiring before them, Free State of Jones ends up as a 140 minutes’ worth of disappointment and marks itself down as one of 2016 biggest wasted opportunities.
Offering up the appealing prospect of Matthew McConaughey continuing on his engaging career revival in a lead role he seemed born to play, Seabiscuit and Hunger Games director Gary Ross unfortunately fails to ignite the passion in his telling of the true story of Civil War deserter turned hero Newton Knight, who joined up a rag tag group of fellow deserters and slaves to fight the good fight and stick it to the men in uniform who cared little about the health and safety of citizens it didn’t even deem worthy of human rights.
Transpiring’s that take place throughout Free State of Jones, whether it be Knight in the heat of a bloody frontline battle, swamp based townships or bullet filled fights for freedom, feel like comings and goings rather than engaging events, Ross struggling to find the films core aim and for a big budgeted drama, the film feels like it’s been cut from a budget TV production, and for a film intent on trudging along past the 2 hour mark; by which time many a viewer will have switched off mentally after the film seems to hit a huge hurdle after the 100 minute mark, this is detrimental to Jones’s chances of success, despite its commitment from its wasted cast.
To be honest, McConaughey could’ve played the role of Knight in his sleep, but that can’t take away the fact he still does a fine job of portraying an everyman who became a leader in a time when people needed it most. Support’s like rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and the underused Kerri Russell all do fine work but like the way the films pace is lost in a shoddily edited and misguided narrative (which includes a bizarrely intrusive court case set years after events here), they’re never really given proper time to shine despite all the elements clearly there for them to do so.
There’s a great film (or perhaps mini-series) at the heart of Free State of Jones, some scenes within the film clearly show this, but this often unengaging and emotion free experience ends up as huge waste of talent and a mismanaged telling of an interesting moment in American history that should’ve made for a film far better than the one Gary Ross has conjured up here.
2 uncomfortable neck accessories out of 5