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Free State of Jones, The


Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Sean Bridgers, Christopher Berry, Wayne Père

Director: Gary Ross

An epic of the American Civil War, based on truth but very moody and slow-moving outside of two or three excellent action sequences. But too much of the rest of this is dry and dreary, with quite a few long speeches along the way. Most of these come from Newton Knight (a resolute McConaughey), the central figure in the drama, whom we meet as a 'nurse' on a battlefield of 1862.

When a 'kinfolk' boy is killed by his side, Newt resolves to take the boy home to his mother in Jones County, thus deserting the Confederate Army.

He and his wife (Russell) are helped by Rachel (Mbatha-Raw), a maid from a nearby plantation, when their son falls ill, but Newt's days at home are numbered, as soldiers with dogs come hunting for him. Escaping with a badly-bitten leg, he is sent by a friend into the swamps, where he joins a group of runaway slaves,

In time, the group is joined by more and more deserters. Robbing Confederate mercenaries of their ill-gotten gains, Newt becomes a kind of Robin Hood of the bayou. His wife has left him, but he finds new love with Rachel, and proclaims his growing community to be 'the free men of Jones County.' But the Rebel HQ sends a troop of soldiers to eliminate the 'Free State of Jones'.

The film certainly has some pertinent things to say about racial persecution, but its message is all but blunted by the sheer weight of the narrative, which might be better suited to a mini-series on TV. Performances are OK, but largely unmemorable.

David Quinlan

USA 2016. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Technicolor.
133 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 29 Jan 2017

DVD review