Set amidst the gore and bloodshed of the American Civil War, Free State Of Jones tells the true story of “stick it to the man” Southern farmer Newton Knight and his inspiring militant rebellion against the Confederacy. Uniting with other local farmers and slaves, he started an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to severe themselves from the Confederacy, hence establishing a Free State Of Jones. Newton Knight continued his fight into Reconstruction, labelling himself as a compelling yet controversial figure that defied the system during the American Civil War and the years after.
Free State Of Jones is much better than the critics would have us believe. It has a solid narrative, excellent acting performances and a musical score that compliments the visuals spectacularly well. I have to be honest. I am an absolute sucker for true stories, especially those with themes that incorporate themes of slavery, civil rights and black oppression. I love Black History, despite its brutality and trauma. Despite the critics, I went to watch this film in all its splendour in the cinema. This a history flick that should be given the ultimate cinema experience. If you want a war drama that is continuous action, you best stop reading now. If you want a war drama with compelling themes and a solid narrative, this is the film for you.
Free State Of Jones starts with a battle scene full of death, destruction and bloody corpses. After that, it moves along nicely to the point where some of the locals think that “enough is enough” and decide to rebel against the Confederacy, for the awful deeds they have committed against the local farmers. The plot is solid, well-written and it really sucked me in. Plus, every so often, real dates came on to the screen much alike what Tarantino did with Django Unchained when Django and Dr King Schultz arrived at a new location. In this regard, it feels like a documentary but then it also feels like an biography drama.
As a former Cultural Studies student, I can say that this should be shown to students of History, Cultural Studies, Film Studies (did that too), Sociology and Creative Writing (currently doing this). It should be a case study in all of these, and subjects of this ilk. Free State Of Jones touches on many issues from the injustices of the Slave Trade to antiestablishmentarianism to The Ku Klux Klan and even more basic themes of family, morality and doing the right thing. This may be a little slow for your casual movie goers who are used to high-octane thrillers. This is a film that should be used as a case study for students from GCSE level up to degree level.
The many types of slavery are evident in this story, from your runaway slaves to the white farmers who are in a slavery of their own, a slavery of the mind. They are in a psychological bondage. They are more or less owned by the Confederates when they pillage the farmers’ yield. The film has many moments of savagery, gore and violence, in addition to the use of expletive language and some outright hard to watch scenes. I do recall a scene with the Klan that I did wince at. The film is a slow burn but the emotional depths that it plunges to have to be commended. If anything, this film is enough to make people want to research more into the Civil War and history. After watching, a fire was ignited inside of me that pushed me to study and research more into the lesser known parts of one of the most renowned parts history.
In 2016, there have been too many movies that have released trailers and revealed too much. You can watch any of the trailers for this movie, and still want to watch it from start to finish. It’s a cinema-worthy film for those who have the patience to watch it. For films like this, it takes a certain amount of character to sit through it to the end. You need a level-head and discipline. It’s a movie for students, film fans and cinephiles. Not for film casuals and certainly not one for a first date. This is certainly one I will watch again on DVD or digital release. I left the cinema feeling slightly down because of the themes depicted, but it was definitely worth the trip. It wasn’t a wasted trip. You’re going to be sad yet you will be happy about it.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) goes from strength to strength with a solid performance as Rachel. Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage) as Moses is also good. When we first meet him, he’s wearing a punishment collar. This hits me as a symbol of the inhumanity of slavery and how white owners treated their fellow-man. Slaves weren’t seen as people. They were seen as animals that were no better than pieces of meat to be touched, prodded, poked and sometimes, fed to the dogs. All in all, it’s a solid movie that’s not for the tender-hearted. Many scenes will leave people a blubbering mess. It’s dark, gritty and brutal with elements of comedy and like many slavery dramas, hope.