Free State of Jones

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Free State of Jones

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Impeccably wrought yet emotionally hollow, Gary Ross's Civil War-era rebellion drama suffers from too much ambition

Is the McConaissance well and truly over? Looks like it: Matthew McConaughey stars in this strident, half-successful Civil War drama, a movie that leans too hard on its star's Southern-fried smoothness (which is getting to be a joke, Oscars coronation aside). Free State of Jones certainly looks and sounds right, and probably smells right too — these gunky Mississippi battles and unwashed soldiers feel authentic. The problem, as with McConaughey's performance, is that you always do feel it. The film is in your face, like a brown-nosing student waiving his hand in the front row because he knows the answer.

The irony here is that McConaughey's character – the controversial real-life rebel Newton Knight, a Unionist who broke from the Confederacy while still remaining racist – could have been exactly the kind of complex role the actor needs. For this overlong plot, Knight's rougher edges have been sanded down. There's lots of slave-freeing, speech-giving and interracial-romancing (with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in an underwritten part), but little of the kind of cryptic opacity McConaughey is capable of.

Writer-director Gary Ross (PleasantvilleSeabiscuit) knows how to please crowds, so there's fascination in his consistently wrongheaded impulse to add more historical details: lengthy scenes of exposition, even a leap decades into the future for a courtroom drama involving Knight's persecuted offspring. He's lost sight of the powerful drama at this story's heart, about the ennobling swirl of momentous events. - Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Release date:
Thursday August 25 2016
139 mins

Cast and crew

Gary Ross
Leonard Hartman, Gary Ross
Matthew McConaughey
Keri Russell
Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Users say