Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review #447: "Free State of Jones" (2016)

Movie"Free State of Jones"
Director: Gary Ross
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes
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Tired of risking his life so plantation owners can maintain their profits, a confederate soldier named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) deserts his post when his nephew is killed in battle. Now a fugitive, he forms his own army in a Pascagoula swamp made up of fellow deserters and a group of runaway slaves. Together, they raid confederate supply lines and seize the land in south east Mississippi as a free state of Jones.

"Free State of Jones" is directed by Gary Ross, who is best known for films like "Seabiscuit" and "The Hunger Games," both of which are compelling movies we very much enjoy. It tells the story of Newton Knight, played by Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, a confederate army deserter who took up arms against the confederacy with a resistance he formed consisting of other deserters, farmers, and runaway slaves. Joining McConaughey are Mahershala Ali, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, and Christopher Berry. This is a cast of very capable actors, and they all put on good performances with Mbatha-Raw and Ali giving two of the best performances of their careers. In fact, each one acts the hell out of their parts, even McConaughey, so just know that if you decide to watch this movie, you'll most likely enjoy the acting. The story is one of important historical significance that covers the Civil War and slightly beyond into post-emancipation Mississippi, plus the south's continuing battles with racism. The film opens up very strongly in the middle of one of these Civil War battles, and the first 15 minutes or so offer some solid, borderline great sequences of exciting, brutal action...that is, while they last. With all of this going for it, what could go wrong when it comes to "Free State of Jones"? Apparently, a lot.

First, this film is horribly paced in our opinion. It clocks in at about 2 hours and 19 minutes long, but it easily feels twice that length. For every good scene Gary Ross has to offer, there are at least three times as many that feel inane and pointless. These mismatched sequences drag on and on and on and never feel like they are going to end. Couple this with its terrible editing and you've got a whopper of a problem. These poorly executed cuts add to this slow pace. Most of these edits come from sudden, oddly placed jumps in the time period, moving from the Civil War era to the 1940's in the middle of the movie. This brings us to yet another problem we had while watching "Free State of Jones." Every single scene that takes place in the 40's is not at all needed. These more modern portions cover an anti-miscegenation trial, where a descendant of Knight's faces jail time for unlawfully marrying a white woman because he is 1/8th black. We personally feel this secondary story would be a great subject to cover in its own picture, but including it in the middle of this one brings "Jones" to a screeching halt every time the time jumps. It makes the story lack focus to add such randomly placed, non-flowing sequences like this and only serves to make "Jones" feel more disjointed than it already is. We think they should have been left on the cutting room floor.

We thought for sure "Free State of Jones" was going to be an Oscar-baity war picture, but instead, it reminds us more of "Our Brand is Crisis," something with a powerful trailer shown over and over that ultimately leaves the audience wanting more. All in all, "Free State of Jones" is a film that showcases its best scenes in the trailer, leaving nothing to the imagination and only long, arduous minutes of nothing remotely compelling left to bore its audiences. Given its subject matter, it should have been a captivating, deeply emotional and interesting film. This is not a bad movie, but it's just not an exceptional one, either. Though it has good acting all around and decent visuals and action to start, it's really a slog in disguise, a slow-paced drudgery with better secondary character acting that had so much potential to be something infinitely better.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.
One year ago, we were watching: "The Running Man"

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