‘Free State of Jones’ Review

Directed by Gary Ross

Written by Gary Ross

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell

★★☆

“The Free State of Jones” follows the story of Jones County, Mississippi, which during the US Civil War rebelled against the Confederacy. Jones County is a fascinating piece of history from the Civil War, and that story alone is enough to make a compelling dramatic narrative, but “The Free State of Jones” attempts to be something more than a period piece. When it tries to explore the deeper issues of class and race, it starts to falter.

The part of “The Free State of Jones” that dealt with the rebellion was fantastic, as mentioned above this saga is a fascinating part of the Civil War. Gary Ross – “The Hunger Games” and “Seabiscuit” – tells the saga of Jones County, Mississippi well. I thought that Ross laid out the context for the rebellion so that you understood what had shaped these disillusioned feelings with the Confederacy.

Throughout the movie there is this thing with the miscegeny trial of one of the descendants of Newton Knight, which made no sense, was out of place, and was placed into the movie seemingly no reason. When “The Free State of Jones” gets to Reconstruction the movie gives you the condensed version of Reconstruction. I am sure this stuff was placed into the movie to give it more depth, and make it about more than just the Jones County saga. Everything involving the southern elites and race relations is kept too distant from the narrative. It is mostly just mentioned to the point of its relevance to the plot. This movie probably should have been a “Gone with the Wind” length epic, so that it was able to devote the time it needed to develop and explore Reconstruction and whatever it was trying to do with the trial portion of the movie. At the very least, the portion of the movie dealing with Reconstruction should have been more developed. It could have been a fascinating exploration of the sociopolitics of the post-Civil War American South.

“The Free State of Jones” is just a little too ambitious, but the direction of Gary Ross and the performance of Matthew McConaughey make this movie a worthwhile watch, and you get to learn about a fascinating episode in the US Civil War – even if it is dramatized.

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