Written and Directed by Gary Ross
The Free State of Jones tells the story of Confederate Army deserter Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) and of Jones County, Mississippi during and shortly after the Civil War.
This is great movie about what is for many a little-known (and in some aspects contested) piece of history. I am sure the movie takes liberties with the story as Hollywood often does. From what I know of the actual events in comparison to the movie they are significantly fictionalized but near as I can tell they at least get Knight largely correct in their characterization.
McConaughey plays Knight as a cantankerous individualist and from what I know of the real-life man that seems to be about right. He was more about doing his own thing and sticking a finger in the eye of those that would order him or others around.
The only other really significant character is Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali). He could best be described as Knight’s close friend and other than Knight he is the only other character that spends a great deal of time on screen. I am not sure though if this character actually existed or was one of those notorious “composite” characters Hollywood often uses. Use real characters to tell the story rather than replace them with works of fiction that obliterate the contributions of those that actually lived.
They do not skimp on the racism here. It is nothing they shy away from. There is racism shown in and out of the hideaway where the rebellious citizens of Jones live but for the most part everyone gets along even if it is a little uneasy at times.
The film covers the trials and tribulations that they have in existing within the swamp and then extending that existence to taking three counties in Mississippi. We also get to see the aftermath and how Knight who has taken former slave Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as another wife must now deal with having two families.
The film is interspersed with the events of a trial set in the early 50s where a descendent of his called Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin) is attempting to marry and it is believed that this person is related to Newt and his African-American wife and not Newt and his white wife. It provides a nice contrast to the events of the film and is a way of saying while we have come a long way, we do have a way to go. This portion appears to be based on real life events but differs in that Davis Knight did go to jail but only until the Supreme Court of Mississippi overturned his conviction.
We do get images at the end of the film showing the actual Newton Knight and an epilogue to his life story as well. Stated earlier I am sure liberties were taken with the story so use this film if you are interested as a starting point to learn more about what really happened. After all real life is often more interesting and more complex than what they can put up in a two-hour film.
The Free State of Jones is a good movie that will keep you interested from the very beginning to the end. If you have not seen it, you should.