The Force at work / La Force en action

The Force at work / La Force en action
As the past is removed, a new beginning emerges.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Free State of Jones

Matthew McConaughey, left, and Jacob Lofland in
            “Free State of Jones.” Credit Murray Close/STX Entertainment                    

I was motivated to see this American Civil War movie because it stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a Mississippi born farmer who joined the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and then deserted to form Knight's Company a resistance group that fought back against the injustice of the Confederacy.

The movie opens on the battlefield where we see Knight acting as a medic transporting wounded soldiers to emergency field hospitals. While on one of his run he encounters one of his kin, the 14 year old Daniel played by Jacob Lofland. Knight promises to protect the youth who is quickly shot dead in an ambush. This affects Knight so deeply that he can't go on being a Confederate soldier and deserts the army.
Newton Knight by Unknown Photographer

The story is a romanticized version of the facts. Certain elements are inaccurately portrayed. For example Knight and his wife Serena, Keri Russell,  had 9 children and he then had 5 more children with his common law wife, a former slave named Rachel played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In the movie they make it seem each woman had a child each.

The compelling element for me is the reason I wanted to see the movie: McConaughey's performance. He is intense and perceptive as he portrays a character who is moved to action by the cruel injustices of his times. He portrays the kind of man that makes us proud to be human beings.

The film itself has an excellent balance between moments of laughter that relieve tension and other moments that are devastatingly painful. I thought the timing was a little off kilter by zooming in on the 1948 trial of Davis Knight, one of Newton's descendants with from his union with Rachel guilty of marrying a white girl, on 3 separate occasions. I know the intention is to underscore the ongoing racism of the south but I am not sure it is good for the momentum of the film.

The film is directed by Gary Ross and written in collaboration with Leonard Hartman.


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