Ever seen a movie that should have been great but just missed the mark? Such is the case with “Free State of Jones,” an earnest and well-meaning historical drama undone by a jagged structure that prevents it from being the gripping experience it should have been.
Matthew McConaughey stars in the true story of Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who became a deserter and eventually formed a ragtag coalition of escaped slaves and Southern farmers that wound up fighting the Confederacy. Keri Russell plays his put upon wife and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the Creole woman who becomes, basically, his second wife.
The film is well produced and McConaughey and company give sincere performances. As depicted in this movie, Knight’s struggle was an honorable one and went well beyond the Civil War. But as realized by filmmaker Gary Ross, the director of “The Hunger Games,” the story becomes a bit preachy and lacks a satisfying dramatic arc. It winds up feeling like a history lesson instead of an enthralling movie.
Still, it’s an important, untold story that deserves to be seen by anyone seeking a better understanding of this critical time in American history.