Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross, is a film that completely fails to explore or enlighten the audience on what is an important and not well-known story from America’s past. Nothing stands out and nothing grabs your interest. We the audience are instead left to watch scenes that feel in desperate need of some context and more importantly compelling content. This review will probably not be the kindest of critiques so let’s get it underway.
In the film we primarily follow Newton Knight – played by Matthew McConaughey – who is a man who is tired of fighting in the American civil war, as he feels he is only fighting to help continue lining the pockets of rich men and so decides to abandon his position in the army and return home to Mississippi. There he discovers that taxmen are robbing the people of their belongings so as to continue to fund the war. Newton Knight – after being hunted for desertion – finds himself in the swamp lands, where he begins to build a sanctuary for people who no longer want to live in a place that treats them so unfairly, the ‘Free State of Jones’.
The biggest issue in this film is its total lack of development of any of its aspects. Starting with characters: I couldn’t give you a decent breakdown of any of the characters in this film, as they are either not fleshed out in any way or their characteristics are so one-dimensional that it would be a waste of time. Let’s take Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) who is the protagonist of the film; here is a man who is so basic in how he is presented, that he never felt like a real person and yet this film is based upon a true story and this was a man who actually lived. So why the film chose to make him such a one-note individual is baffling. For me the main issue with him was that he was just too good, there was not a single flaw to this man; he cared for everyone, he wasn’t racist, sexist and he never dismissed anyone, no matter how disruptive to his outlook/plans they were. He was someone who was just the all American good guy, and I found him to be completely unbelievable.
So you can imagine that if the film can’t even give its main character the necessary development and time to grow, that there is no chance that anyone else in the film is going to be able flourish, and you’d be right in thinking that. Not one character stands out, no one feels like a well-defined individual that over the course of the film we get to know and understand. Instead, when the film needs to focus on someone other than Newton Knight, it just pulls them out of the obscurity that they previously resided in, and then attempts to shoe-horn them into the story in some meaningful way – it doesn’t work and it just furthers the total disinterest that inevitably occurs.
So while the film isn’t developing its characters, it’s also not making any attempt to explore what had the potential to be a really compelling story. I mean here you have a true story that isn’t that well-known and would be one that is really interesting to learn about, but it’s unfortunately within a film that completely fails to explore or inform in a way that is understandable or memorable. I think what causes the story to be such a mess is not only its lack of focus and development (add to that its failings with the characters) but that structurally the film is at times incoherent. The story spans quite a number of years and so this means that we jump around… a lot, and so trying to keep up with where the characters are within all the jumping around, and how things are progressing for this newly occurring state, is really difficult.
It was a combination of the film jumping from scene to scene without some much-needed context and also characters who were jumbled up in all of the context-less incoherence that meant I couldn’t (and frankly didn’t want to) keep up or continue being invested in anything that was going on. This resulted in it feeling like a film that just went on and on, and that’s never an enjoyable experience.
Oh yeah, there was also the unnecessary inclusion of a side story which took place in 1960’s America. So while you’re attempting to keep up with the main story during the American civil war, your also being flashed forward to another story that takes place in a court room and involves a case about a man trying to marry his wife but can’t because part of his heritage is black. I don’t understand why this was included as it only served to muddle the film up more.
I have a few more points about how much I didn’t enjoy this film and how its whole presentation is just a mess, but I don’t feel like bashing on this film anymore, because what’s the point. I think you can guess by now that I didn’t enjoy this film at all.
So I will of course not be recommending ‘Free State of Jones’. A total failure of a film that offers nothing memorable or of note – pass this one by and see something that is much more worth your time.
Did you find any enjoyment in ‘Free State of Jones’? Let me know in the comments down below. If you’re feeling generous and would like to be kept up-to-date on more of my reviews, perhaps either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you return.