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Film – Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones should be a great film. It deals with a little known rebellion in the South of the USA against the Confederate army during the American Civil War. There were a small number of these regions where locals, including Confederate deserters and escaped slaves, declared their independence and attempted to secede from the Confederacy and join the Union.

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) deserted to return to his home County of Jones in Mississippi and lead a rebellion against the Confederate’s tax men and its overtly pro-plantation owner laws. It’s a fascinating story about the horrors of war, slavery and racism, and an important part of American history.

If only the film had stopped there. The first two-thirds of the film that cover Knight’s role in these incredible events is poignant and interesting at historical and personal levels. Knight falls in love with a slave girl while building an army and leading the rebellion.

The rest of the film is a potted history of racial struggles in the South over the next 100 or so years – emancipation, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the origins of the civil rights movement; all based around Knight’s family and his comrades but told in a rush of chronological leaps at odds with the deliberately paced earlier passages.

It’s a shame that Free State of Jones doesn’t subscribe to the less is more principle. Sure it’s based on a book but no director or writer should feel obliged to portray every page they’re basing a film on. If Free State of Jones had more focus it would have been even more powerful and left an even bigger impression.

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