Saturday 18 February 2017

Free State Of Jones

There’s something that I love about gritty, Southern-American historical dramas, so ‘Free State of Jones’, directed by Gary Ross, is the sort of film that I’ll gladly sit down to watch. Set in the late 1800s during the Civil war of Jones County, Mississippi, ‘Free State of Jones’ portrays the life of Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey.

After deserting the war to bury his eldest son, Newt makes a point of helping his fellow townsfolk who are feeling the wrath of the Confederate – they take what they want from their farms and justify it with the war. After escaping, yet wounded, Newt finds himself safe within a nearby swamp among a group of runaway slaves who nurse to him back to health. It is here that Newt begins a large movement against the Confederacy and the sadly common issue of racial inequality.

Alongside the events of Jones County we are also fast-forwarded 85 years after the war, where a descendant of Newt himself, Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), is going through a court case – he may not be able to legally marry his partner due to Mississippi’s law against the union of different races.

Newton Knight is really the Robin Hood of the American South – fighting against the rich in order to alleviate the poor. The film itself is based on real events, and the book by Victoria E. Bynum of the same name, and sadly is a telling a piece of American history that you most likely won’t have heard before. It’s a fascinating story though, and one that certainly should be more well-known (which hopefully Ross’s version will help with).

The start is gruesome and hard-hitting as we come face to face with the effects of the war – death, destruction, and of course a whole lot of unnecessary theft of the people that need it the least. It’s all very realistic, and undoubtedly gets that southern grittiness across. There’s also plenty of brooding, iconic shots that demonstrate the history and the atmosphere of a time that seems so long ago. 

The only issue I had with it was that it was slightly too long – at 2 hours and 20 minutes it really isn’t a film that you can just sit down and watch at any time. It also requires a certain amount of concentration, with the combination of the past and the future getting a bit confusing at points, and the unfortunate mumbling issue we always seems to get with films set in the South. It was completely gripping until the last hour, where for some reason it just didn’t hold like it had done previously. The first hour and a half was captivating though, and so I have no faults there.

Despite all of the heartache and the grim scenes, the film is generally uplifting in that it proves that there really were good people out there in such difficult times. The real Newton Knight may not be celebrated by the locals of Jones County so much, but anyone who can relate to the struggle of racial inequality of the frequently occurring rich vs. poor scenario will most likely feel some sort of empathy with him. Behind the story and the cinematics Newt was just a man who felt it worth fighting for something he believed in – the sort of character that always makes these types of films worth watching.


Hannah Read

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