In 1862 during the height of the American Civil War, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a Confederate medical runner on the Mississippi frontlines. When his nephew dies in battle, Knight decides to get out and give the kid a proper burial at home. Doing this, however, paints Knight as a deserter, and he is pursued accordingly by the army.
The film is stylistically fairly standard. Though, the lighting and establishing shots are both of note, setting the atmosphere of the setting. The first scene in the swamp, too, is shot well, a wide angle lens highlighting Knight’s foreignness to his surroundings, a shooting style that dissipates as the foreignness does.
McConaughey puts forth another eye-catching performance, albeit one less powerful as others he has had in recent years. The overuse of inspirational monologues that he gives throughout the film disallow for a more nuanced performance.
Narratively, the film is well-structured with a handful of characters worth examining. For a time, that is. One subplot, while initially intriguing, proves to be more distracting than complementary. Additionally, the narrative begins unthreading in the third act, where it becomes less of a period piece character study and more of a history lesson. The scope of the story too expansive, we are left with a piece that feels overlong and incomplete, almost messy.
Free State of Jones is an overlong look into an interesting caveat of American history. Where its visuals and acting are strong, it is difficult to stay engaged with a film that drags on past its true ending.
As always, thanks for reading.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)