Guest Movie Review: Free State of Jones

elifree stateBy Eli Sanchez
Guest Contributor
Silver Screen Capture

Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones (A-) is a riveting take on a lesser-known tale of the Civil War.  The film is based on the real life of a Confederate Soldier named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) who deserts his post after the death of a close friend.  He returns home to have the friend buried.  Some of reasons behind the departure also have to do with some of the poorer folks fighting for the South feeling they’re fighting to help rich plantation owners who don’t have to fight (the Confederacy apparently granted exceptions to able bodied landowners who owned 20 or more slaves and that if they had male children, each one would be exempt for every 20 slaves the family owned).  The film covers the years 1862-1878, and then with some fast forwarding to the 1960’s. Much of the plot revolves around a group of deserters banding together to fight against the looting of the Confederate Army as well as joining together to take back their land from Confederate land.   The deserters are also combined with runaway slaves and other sympathizers and eventually call themselves “The Free State of Jones” named for the county in Mississippi where they reside.  They declare themselves independent of the Confederacy even going so far as to raise a Union flag in town at one point. The film intersperses court proceedings in the future regarding one of Knight’s posterity being tried in court for marrying a white woman.  Knight himself had at one point fallen in love with a free slave woman, and this ends up being his great grandson that we fast-forward to in the 1960’s. The film loses a lot of steam towards the end while it covers the Reconstruction-era South and the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan as well as the origins of the Civil Rights movement. Still the film is very powerful and definitely a piece of history that should looked at in schoolbooks.


I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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Posted in 2016, Eli Sanchez

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