Free State of Jones
dir-scr Gary Ross
prd Jon Kilik, Gary Ross, Scott Stuber
with Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Christopher Berry, Sean Bridgers, Jacob Lofland, Thomas Francis Murphy, Bill Tangradi, Brian Lee Franklin, Kerry Cahill, Joe Chrest
release US 24.Jun.16, UK 20.Sep.16
16/US 2h19
Free State of Jones
Fighting for justice: McConaughey and Mbatha-Raw

mbatharaw ali russell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Free State of Jones With its urgent, timely themes and high production values, there is plenty in this true story to make the film worth a look. But it's too worthy to resonate properly, and the fragmented script struggles to hold the attention as it meanders from event to event without building a sense of momentum. Even so, the performances and filmmaking are striking.

In 1862 Mississippi, as the Civil War is raging, medic Newton Knight (McConaughey) finds it increasingly impossible to serve in the Confederate Army with poor men fighting to help the rich maintain their wealth. So he abandons the frontline and returns home, where he creates a makeshift militia of deserters and escaped slaves and declares Jones County as a free state. Skirmishes with the army follow over the coming years, and even after the war ends Newton continues to fight against blatantly racist laws alongside his second wife Rachel (Mbatha-Raw).

The story is occasionally intercut with events 75 years later, as Newton's descendant Davis (Franklin) is criminally charged with marrying a white woman, illegal because he is one-eighth black. While these scenes make the point that the struggle didn't end in the 19th century, they otherwise slow down Newton's story, which is no mean feat since it's already crawling at a snail's pace. There's plenty happening, but the film has a strangely muted sensibility through its overlong running time.

The cast is excellent, anchored by a committed central turn from McConaughey as a tough-minded man who refuses to follow the status quo. His religious convictions have left him in no doubt about what is right, and he sticks to his guns, as it were, even in some very difficult situations. Mbatha-Raw shines as a strong woman in a fairly underwritten role. Ali brings some passion to his role as a former slave trying to improve his community.

Several of this movie's issues ring true today: terrorism, gun violence, racial tension, political corruption. Even more vital is the depiction of a world where all workers are essentially enslaved to the the wealthy minority. Although progress has been made, American society has yet to deal with any of these things. So the obvious suggestion is that the nation is in need of people of conscience to stand for what's morally right. It's a great story told on a grand cinematic scale. So it's just a shame that the film feels so dry, and at times rather dull.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Aug..16

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