By: Reel 127 (Three Beers) –
Remember a few years ago where everything Matthew McConaughey was in turned out to be great? Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, True Detective, etc. Then he reached a point where he started taking things that seemed good but really turned out to be mediocre or bad? Like that one movie that got booed at Cannes Film Festival? Free State of Jones falls into the former category.
This movie got booed if you were wondering.
Free State of Jones is the story of Newton Knight, a deserter of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He builds up a free society of other deserters and runaway slaves in a swamp. Eventually he builds up his community enough to become its own independent country.
I am glad that this film wasn’t half-assed. I always hate watching a period piece where the makers aren’t fully invested in capturing the period. It’s like flipping off the audience by promising on something they won’t deliver. The production and costume design were great for this movie and the action sequences were pretty well filmed. The movie is visually appealing which is always good for the medium it is presented in. The first fifteen minutes of Free State of Jones are great as they show the terrible side of the Civil War that we often overlook.
Out of his most recent performances that I have seen, this felt like McConaughey’s worse. He wasn’t bad or broke character, it just seemed under-performed for someone like him. The character was rather static and didn’t change that much (if at all) from what he was like at the beginning of the film. We know he can do a great job, so I am wondering if the director just didn’t give him enough direction. Speaking of which, I kept thinking about The Hunger Games during this movie. With the whole “rebel against a government that only takes from its people” plot. Would you believe that Gary Ross, the writer/ director of The Hunger Games, was the writer/director/producer of this film?
And for his next film, Gary Ross will make
“The Free State of Panem.”
The story is my biggest complaint about this movie. There is a subplot set in the 1940s where Newton’s great-grandson is in court for legally being a black man (1/8th black) and so he was unlawfully married. This plot is about seven minutes of screen time and unnecessary. Also, what felt like it should have been the climax of the movie was actually the end of the second act. The film should have ended shortly after Newton announces the land to be the free state of Jones. The title of the movie is misleading as the plot focuses much less on the free state and more on Newton as the third act covers an entire decade of his life after the Civil War. This movie could have been cut by at least forty minutes.
Free State of Jones only gets three beers because even though it has a bunch of unnecessary plot lines it is still good filmmaking. If this were a poorly made film that was as long as it was I would easily call this the worst film I saw all year. If the story were better refined then this could have been an awards season contender. Despite what it does well I recommend passing on this one.
If he had been Rustin Cohle for the whole movie,
I would have zero complaints despite the lack of logic.
Free State of Jones (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone is hung
Do a Shot: when they say the movie title
Take a Drink: when you get upset because you are supposed to be mad about Slavery
Take a Drink: when McConaughey starts breathing heavily.