Directed by Gary Ross, and based on the life of confederate soldier turned rebellion leader Newton Knight, Free State of Jones is unlike any other American Civil War film as we see the protagonist Newton Knight switch sides and challenge the very authority he has come from.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel Knight, Keri Russell as Serena Knight and Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington. While the film opens with battle and bloodshed, it isn’t until we see the death of one of Knight’s mentees that we see the real pain of the war. The film tells two stories simultaneously, one of Newton Knight and one of his future generations, who may have to suffer the unfair consequences of his origins. While the battle for freedom rages on during the 19th century there is another battle, or rather mystery unraveling throughout the film, being fought in court about 80 years after Knight’s heroic actions. Newton Knight has two children during the course of the film and the identity of the mother is called into question many years later when their grandchild is accused of taking part in an interracial relationship. While the focus does shift at times, the film does an excellent job of attempting to portray the events with historical accuracy, often using photographs of real battle scenes and descriptions of the changing political scenes. This film is not for the weak of heart as it vividly depicts the unjust deaths and murders of innocent lives, be they young or old. However, while there are many emotional moments throughout Free State of Jones, there doesn’t seem to be a distinct moment where the audience fully connects to Knight’s character. McConaughey delivers a beautiful performance; we sympathize with his character and want him to succeed, but as much love as he has for all people, we don’t fully get to see the depth of his emotion. The film is currently in theaters and should not be missed.