It’s an interesting film to come out during the month of June. On the surface, it appears to be Oscar bait. But it has its fair share of issues. However, they shouldn’t be enough to hinder any enjoyment of the film.
Amidst the impressive set pieces and Confederate South backdrop, Free State of Jones follows Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, a deserted soldier who starts an uprising against his former Confederate army. He leads a group of escaped slaves and runaway farm workers under the credo that no man shall be owned, and poor men should not be losing their lives so the rich can get richer.
It’s a truly powerful film about freedom and an earnest man who believes in equality–even on a subconscious level. Yet, it’s interesting to note that everything between Knight and his comrades is all good. There is a minor spat between him and four of his men, but it lasts all of about ten minutes of screen time. Other than that, there isn’t much conflict within his rule.
There is, however, much outside hostility. That’s the whole point of the movie. The action scenes are both eye-opening and jaw dropping. About as real as any Civil War film can be. And there are several scenes that are so lifelike that even the snootiest critic must acknowledge its integrity.
The script isn’t perfect. Some potential nuances are left on the table. Certain inner struggles that Knight faces are sped through, when they would have significantly benefitted the character’s development. We don’t catch enough inward glimpses. At times, the circumstances seem overcome too easily. And it’s not McConaughey’s fault. I’m not sure if I can imagine anyone else playing the part.
But the main story is told the right way. It serves its purpose as we come closer to understanding the struggle of the slaves and impoverished farmers. It’s not just a fight for freedom, but for equality–which this movie proves may not always be the same thing.
At 139 minutes, it never feels long. By the end, you still feel like there should have been more.