I somewhat remember when Free State of Jones was brand new. I declined to see it until now, as I guess many had done so, because it did really poorly at the box office. It also was rather hit-or-miss with critics. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of Matthew McConaughey as he’s often too religious in his work and he often seems to be playing the same type of character, more often than not. But I wanted to give Free State of Jones a chance.
The movie is about the life of the real-life man known as Newton Knight. He’s a medic in the Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War. He runs into his young nephew during a major battle, and sees the young lad mortally wounded by a bullet. Outraged by his nephew’s early death, and the fact that all Southern soldiers were fighting on behalf of wealthy plantation owners, he defects from the rebel military.
He returns home to Jones County, Mississippi. But he should be very careful. The CSA isn’t fond of those who defected from the army, and they send men like him easily to the gallows. But Newt is a smart man, he knows how to run, he knows where to hide, and he certainly knows how to fight and make his enemies scared of him.
Newton Knight finds out he’s not so alone. While hiding in the swampland, he meets de facto “freemen” who’d rather hide than be property. Soon many other defectors and southern unionists gather up. Before they know it, they gather a large enough “army” to be a thorn in the side of the local authorities. While technically not a “pro-union” cause, Knight and his supporters soon create a “Free State of Jones” in Mississippi, But how long can they keep themselves alive in the war?
Overall, I was pretty impressed by the film, and I liked Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Newton Knight a lot. As a liberal born in and raised in the American South, Newton Knight and I aren’t so different on the inside, so his true story is really interesting. Though they often mix a lot of fiction in the film, and the final third of the film kind of flops compared to the majority of the movie. Though I will say, the cast actually (more or less) looks very much like the people they are based upon.