Free State of Jones with Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Christopher Berry, directed by Gary Ross.
4.5 / 5
HOLLYWOOD has produced a fair number of movies about the American Civil War, some good and some bad, but in Free State of Jones director Gary Ross has produced a masterpiece that will undoubtedly put him in contention for an Oscar in the best picture category in next year’s Academy Awards.
The story follows the true-life exploits of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a medic and ultimately a deserter of the Confederate Army who witnessed the injustice of a system that made men fight and families starve in order to uphold the rights of the rich cotton farmers of the South.
As a deserter Knight is forced to remove himself from society and, after defending a woman and her three young daughters against pillaging Confederate tax collectors, he has to go on the run again, living in the swamps around Jones County, Mississippi, and teaming up with escaped slaves with whom he forms a bond.
One special house-slave, Rachael (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who had earlier saved Knight’s son when he had had a fever, assists him and the other slaves by providing food and other items during their exile. Eventually Knight takes Rachael as his wife and they have a son together.
As the war progresses more men desert and join Knight until they are eventually able to form a rag-tag company bent on fighting the oppression of the Confederate army who, in turn, are protecting the privileged class of the cotton farmers and rich land-owners.
The story follows Knight’s plight as he fights for the rights of every “child of God” to farm their own land and reap whatever they sow.
One particular former slave, Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali), who had previously attempted to escape his owners to find his family in Texas, becomes a friend and close associate of Knight’s.
The story follows these men through the aftermath of the war and into the Reconstruction era.
Aside from the bloody action scenes, the movie is full of poignant moments. It makes one consider the perennial problems of man’s inhumanity toward man (and woman) and the underlying racism by a few who elevate their own station in life by looking down at other races, regarding them as inferior even though there is little difference in their impoverished conditions.
Within the movie there are interludes of another story playing out in a court 85 years later, when one of Knight’s descendants is put on trial for breaking segregation laws by marrying a white woman, as he is considered one-eighth black.