Free State of Jones

Matthew McConaughey has been having a great stretch of films and performances.  All good things have to come to an end.

I was bored with most of Free State of Jones.  In fact, I may have nodded off at least once during the exceptionally long run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Matthew McConaughey played Newt Knight, a Confederate soldier/nurse who decided that the philosophical ideals of the Civil War was not for him and he deserted.  Taking up residence in a swamp in the county of Jones in the state of Mississippi, Newt starts aiding other deserters and runaway slaves, forming a tight-knit community.

Based on a true story, Free State of Jones never really reaches the level that it seemingly was trying to reach.  It saw itself as a Revenant, but came up very short.

Matthew McConaughey was pretty solid in this role, though many times he felt like he was just playing Matthew McConaughey.  I kept waiting for an “alright alright alright” to break out.

There really wasn’t that much that happened in this movie.  Characters would talk for a while and then someone would have their farm burned down.  Then some more talking.  If the film had dynamic dialogue like a Hateful 8, all the talking might not have been bad, but the dialogue was anything but compelling.

There were also way too many irons in the fire.  We are about a half hour into the movie and then suddenly, we time jump ahead into the 1950s for a trial of one of Newt’s descendants.  Those future scenes really threw me for a loop at first, and, although I kind of dug the story those scenes were telling, it did not correspond with the story being told in the 1860s section of the film.  I think there might have been a story that could have been told about this true story Mississippi trial, but it needed more focus to include it.  As it is, this is a section that could have easily have been edited out to trim some of the time off the film.

There was an interesting dynamic between Newt and Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Newt’s first wife Serena (Keri Russell), but this plot line was not expanded upon.  This was another story element that could have carried a much bigger chunk of the film, and is an example of the film trying to tell too much story.

I did kind of enjoy the history lesson feel that parts of the film went for, but I could not shake the idea that I would have enjoyed this movie more as a documentary.

Moses (Mahershala Ali) was one of the stronger characters in this film, and his fate was one of the most emotional beats of a film that struggled to connect emotionally with its audience.

Free State of Jones could have done with a sharper focus on what story they wanted to tell instead of trying to tell everything.  It is overlong and leaned toward dull (as my power naps may attest) but it has an intriguing story with a good performance from several of the cast.  This could have been so much better.

2.65 stars

 

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