In 1863, Mississippi farmer-turned-medic Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) leaves the Confederate Army after watching his nephew die in battle. Branded an outlaw deserter, Newt returns home to Jones County only to find his friends and family suffering for his actions. He forms an alliance with a group of local farmers and runaway slaves who are tired of fighting a rich man’s war. Together they lead a rebellion that will forever change the course of American history.
After the unbearable slog that is the first twenty minutes, the film starts to get interesting. Newt has a humanitarian interest in unifying his brothers in arms to take back what is rightfully theirs. He demonstrates his compassion for all men as he attempts to bridge the gap between slaves and farmers who are at odds with one another. This is the film’s strength, as it explores the subject of slavery in a manner that is emotionally draining. There are countless scenes that just make you feel like a helpless observer forced to watch these atrocities unfold. The intensity of these moments ramps up as time progresses making for quite the uncomfortable, albeit stimulating cinema experience. Unfortunately, these poignant instances don’t make up for the film’s flaws. I’m not a fan of movies that have multiple endings and sadly Free State of Jones falls into that camp. It’s third act drags on forever without saying anything that hasn’t already been said. It just hammers home the same point until the credits which is quite wearing.
If you’re interested in the monumental importance of this historical event, Free State of Jones is worth a watch. Despite my negative impression, the movie will make you reflect on this country’s storied past and worry about the cyclical racial injustice that goes on to this very day. This is not a feel good movie so if you want a great popcorn flick, you will be better off sticking with Independence Day: Resurgence which is bound to be an enjoyable summer blockbuster.