In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) serves as a medic for the Confederate Army. Opposed to slavery, Knight would rather help the wounded than fight the Union. After his nephew dies in battle, Newt returns home to Jones County to safeguard his family but is soon branded an outlaw deserter. Forced to flee, he finds refuge with a group of runaway slaves hiding out in the swamps. Forging an alliance with the slaves and other farmers, Knight leads a rebellion that would forever change history.Until I saw the trailer, I'd never heard of the anti-Confederate rebellion which came to be known as the Free State of Jones, from which this movie takes its premise. The history around the rebellion and Newton Knight, who has been portrayed as a Civil War Robin Hood, is somewhat muddled.
Perhaps that is why Free State of Jones is a bit of a mess. The director/screenwriter couldn't seem to decide whether he was telling an inspirational story, a morality tale, or a history lesson. The actors do their best but they are given little to sink their teeth into as they are yanked from one focus to another. The result is no focus at all.
Adding to this problem is a 1960s courthouse tale which is occasionally intercut with the Civil War era story. This was extremely distracting until the very end of the movie where it finally began coming together with the main story.
There were also various anachronisms, beginning with the glass windows in the cabin on Newt Knight's hardscrabble farm.
I was pleased, however, with the way religion was portrayed. It was clear that there was an underlying belief in and reliance on God. If poor people had the luxury of a book it was likely to be a small Bible, and the Bible was used to teach people to read. Despite trying times and several funerals God was never railed against and his promises were always turned to for comfort. This really seemed realistic for the times and, as frequent readers here know, is the way many regular Americans still practice their faith.
Unfortunately, despite some praiseworthy elements, Free State of Jones squanders a fascinating story and the potential of the talented contributors.