Blu-ray Review: Free State of Jones
By John Corrado
★★½ (out of 4)
Based on true events, Free State of Jones recounts the story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a disillusioned medic in the Confederate army who deserts the Civil War and returns to Mississippi, leading a rebel militia of poor farmers and runaway slaves in an armed uprising against the corrupt government. Their rebellion led Jones County to secede from the Confederacy, thus creating the Free State of Jones.
The film also follows Moses (Mahershala Ali), an escaped slave who becomes an equally important part of the rebellion, especially during the Reconstruction Era that is chronicled in the last act, and Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young slave fleeing abuse who Newton falls in love with and teaches how to read.
Directed by Gary Ross, Free State of Jones does have some fairly major pacing issues, with the narrative often lurching forward years at a time, and somewhat awkwardly mixing in the story of Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), a descendent of Newton and Rachel’s interracial relationship who is in court many decades later for marrying a white woman. But there is a gritty authenticity to the production design that draws us into its time period, and the film is often stirring on a scene by scene basis, including a funeral shootout that leads to an act of revenge in a church house.
If you can look past the film’s share of pacing problems, Free State of Jones is a decent historical drama that recounts an interesting true story, and is worth seeing for the rock solid performances of Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and especially Mahershala Ali in a powerhouse role, who all dedicate themselves to portraying these historical figures and breathe life into the film.
The Blu-ray also includes an interesting featurette on the history of Jones County, featuring interviews with real life descendants of Newton Knight.
Free State of Jones is an Elevation Pictures release. It’s 140 minutes and rated 14A.