I remembered seeing a preview for Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell a while back but then never heard of it again. Apparently the $50 million passion project by director Gary Ross only make $25 million and disappeared quickly from movie theaters when it came out in the summer of 2016. I found it on Netflix and had to see if it was any good.
First, let me say that while it seemed to drag a bit in the middle, I really liked it. I think I liked it more for the education than anything else. It is the story of a Confederate deserter Newton Knight who rebelled against “poor men fighting rich men’s wars” and formed a mixed-race coalition of deserters and former slaves.
I wasn’t aware this even happened but in researching afterward, saw that the film was very true to actual events. I assume it was panned by Hollywood because of the politics. Ross did not shy away from the fact that as the war ended and the former slaves were freed, it was the Democratic party that not only instituted involuntary “apprenticeship” for their former slaves to continue working the fields, but formed the Ku Klux Klan to enforce their goals. It was the Republican party that stood for the rights of the new freedmen in everything from land ownership to voting.
It is a shame that the film lags in the middle because the beginning and end are quite interesting. That lag is probably used as an excuse by the reviewers who treated it so harshly. As I mentioned before, at the very least this film is worth watching for the history lesson.
by Chris Doelle
Rating 6 of 10