Free State of Jones (MA)
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Thanks to Hollywood many of us sometimes know more about American history than our own. I thought I knew quite a bit about the Civil War until I encountered the true story behind Free State of Jones.
It’s a raw, often gut-wrenching, bloody tale that pulls no punches in portraying the futility and devastation of war, especially when it means brother against brother for the right to exploit other human beings as slaves.
Matthew McConaughey plays the huge role of a Mississippi farmer who deserts his position as a medic in the Confederate Army when his young nephew dies in his arms. He wrangles a group of fugitive black slaves and other renegades to form his own ‘army’ and ultimately their own ‘free state’ against the corruption, inhumanity and brutality of the establishment.
He emerges as an anti-slavery warrior and takes a black woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as his common-law wife (as they can’t legally marry). Along the way he makes some difficult and sometimes deadly decisions in the name of social justice for ‘freedmen’ and ends up being at the extreme ends of the hero-villain scale in the minds of his community. The film also shows the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and the century of prejudicial legacy from the time.
The writer-director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) spent a decade bringing the story to the screen with almost obsessive authenticity. At a time when we are daily reminded that #blacklivesmatter the director’s struggles were well worth it.
Highlights: A stellar performance by Matthew McConaughey
Red flag: High impact violence