Free State of Jones (2016)

(Video on Demand, November 2016) As much as it’s not advisable to trust Hollywood for anything approximating a history lesson, Free State of Jones offers a quick dramatic primer on the incredible story of Jones County, a small area of the Confederate South that managed to rebel against the southern government and remain independent throughout much of the American Civil War. Matthew McConaughey stars in another substantial role as Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who defiantly returns home with his dead cousin and rebels against the local authorities, drawing more and more support along the way. This takes us through the Civil War, well into reconstruction and the difficulties encountered after the moment most war movies end. It ends up being an uplifting story about inclusiveness, rebellion against injustice and the power that small communities can have in shaping their destinies. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell have good supporting roles as wives who reach a curious understanding. Free State of Jones is not quite as successful as it could be: it feels long at more than two hours and a quarter, resorts to title cards to explain what it can’t dramatize, isn’t always able to make the most out of its scenes, loses its way in flashforwards and occasionally feels like it’s repeating the same thing. Still, it’s an interesting historical thriller, and it has a few weighty themes on its mind. It could have been better, but it easily could have been worse.

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