FREE STATE OF JONES
In the American Civil War, defiant and disillusioned Southern farmer, Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey), becomes a deserter and ends up leading a small but effective armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other farmers and local slaves, Knight launches an uprising that leads Jones County, Mississippi, to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continues his struggle in the Reconstruction period, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long after the War. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The bloody, brutal American Civil War continues to be the source for some exceptional stories, interesting both historically and socially, and like this one, with a very long tail. Its repercussions are still tremors in American society. Gary Ross has a serious intent with this film, and he presents it as both entertainment and historical record. It is meticulous in its detail, which gives us confidence that the details and the key characters are authentic.
The film offers explanatory notes on the screen as it progresses through time, adding valuable context to the images, adding visceral power to the characters.
It's not a chapter of the Civil War that is commonly known, nor is its aftermath recognized as a crucial aspect of American history. I find some of the post-war aspects as shocking as state sanctioned slavery, notably Mississippi's vile behavior, which enacts new laws disguised as laws about 'apprenticeship' for blacks. These are shameful covers for perpetuating oppression and racism.
But I am getting as earnest as Gary Ross. Looking at it as cinema, we have to conclude it is effective - if solemn. That's not to be confused with boring, which it definitely is not. Of course, editorially, the film is on the side of the angels as it were. It could never have been made commercially had it been propaganda in favour of slavery (though the KKK might have financed it).
Matthew McConaughey is a profoundly talented actor, immersing himself in the characters he portrays. His performance as Newton Knight carries the story, elevates the film and articulates history. He is ably supported by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel, the slave who becomes the mother of Knight's second son, the young man who is the bridge to the story's extraordinary continuation some 85 years later.
Then there is Keri Russell's heartbreaking performance as Serena, Knight's first wife plus the blazing performances of some of the less likeable characters in the Confederate army, like Christopher Berry as Jasper Collins and Thomas Francis Murphy as Elias Hood. Mahershala Ali is memorable as the black slave Moses, who is one of the first freedmen when Abraham Lincoln's Republicans steer anti slavery laws through Congress.
It's important, yes, but it's also terrific cinema.
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FREE STATE OF JONES (MA15+)
CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Kerri Russell, Christopher Berry, Sean Bridgers, Jacob Lofland, Thomas Francis Murphy, Bill Tangradi, Brian Lee Franklin
PRODUCER: Gary Ross, Scott Stuber, John Kilik
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
SCRIPT: Gary Ross (story by Leonard Hartman)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Beno”t Delhomme
EDITOR: Pamela Martin, Juliette Welfling
MUSIC: Nicholas Britell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: StudioCanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 25, 2016