Saturday, June 25, 2016

Free State of Jones (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Free State of Jones

For those that want a minimalist history lesson  in broad shapes, here you have it in "Free State of Jones" as directed by Gary Ross. Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a freedom fighter in the Reconstruction Era of The Civil War. After his nephew,  (actor Jacob Lofland, McConaughey's co-star in "Mud") dies in a battle, Newton who bares a resemblance to Jesus, gets a spark of an idea to desert against the desperate tyrants of the Confederacy and form his own company.

McConaughey, for his part, is solid in this role excluding the fact that he is often wild eyed and sweating. One can take a bit of comfort in the fact that he has drama in his voice and his rolling southern drawl does have power, albeit comic at times. But suffice to say, this film is generalized and bland having the feel of an illustrated history book.

We have usual stock characters here: a hateful, nonchalant colonel (Lawrence Turner) who talks like Colonel Sanders and his pompous lieutenant (Bill Tangredi). Most of the film highlights the grimy Knight fretting and yes, sweating. He quotes the Bible in grave tones. There is one good combat scene that thrills, but then the narrative snaps back to a gnarled McConaughey proclaming what is good and correct with dialogue out of a John Ford western.

The stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw is McConaughey's spouse in the film but weirdly, her role is too lightly drawn. Rachel Knight is pushed to the background and all but shoved aside with the exception of a gun and a baby. Her character begs for rounder treatment.

There is a side story about Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin) a relative being denied marriage as a mixed race child in the year 1950, but this sideline is hodgepodge and loosely thrown, involving lawyers, bibles and census forms, all of it given soapily.

Granted, it is fun to hate the Confederacy during a battle and there is a haunting montage that recognizes the cinematic offensiveness of 1915's "Birth of a Nation" but for the most part the epic of Newton Knight is watered down to a stick figure who is always right and over-confident, a grimy golden He-man, a Mississippi Messiah.

I declare, a little goes a long way.

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