Free State of Jones | Review

Shame shame shame, I had so many hopes for FREE STATE OF JONES. From the trailer it looked like McConaughey’s BRAVEHEART, his GLADIATOR even, a film that would collect a bag full of Oscars. Sadly from Kernel Jack’s review, it appears a lot less epic. FREE STATE OF JONES is releasing this Thursday 25th August in Australia from the fine folks at StudioCanal, it is rated MA15+ and runs for 140mins. Enjoy Jack’s thoughts below………..all the best……….JK.


There are good films, there are great films, and there are bad films. That’s usually the way it goes. Films are, most of the time, easy to form opinions on. I mean, you either liked it or you didn’t, it’s as simple as that. Every so often, however, a film comes around that’s neither good nor bad. It’s a film that simply exists, unable to fall into either category. It’s a film so very average that it’s almost impossible to form a strong opinion on. There are good things about it, there are great things about it, and there are bad things about it. FREE STATE OF JONES is one of those movies, and it is quite possibly the most mediocre film I have seen in a very long time.


free state of jones movie image




There isn’t really a plot to summarise with this movie, and trust me, I’m trying very hard to come up with one. When you watch a documentary, it’s simply a documentary about, for example, World War 2. That’s all you really need to know in terms of plot, as the film is simply a rundown of World War 2. There’s no plot, but instead there are only facts. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good documentary, but that’s the way it is. FREE STATE OF JONES is a lot like that, even at times feeling strangely like a documentary, with text appearing on screen every half an hour or so, informing us on new information about the events being depicted.

But, a synopsis must be written, so I guess this film technically is the true story of Newton Knight (Mathew McConaughey), an outlaw on the run after he left the civil war in the middle of the battle, no longer seeing the point in fighting. He returns to his hometown of Mississippi to his wife Serena (Keri Russell) and their newborn baby. Angered by the way the townsfolk are being treated, Newton starts a rebellion, fighting back against the law alongside folks of all races, most notably a runaway slave Moses (Mahershala Ali), who ends up becoming quite a close friend of Newtown’s.


Free State of Jones Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) image




If we were to ignore the fact that this is a film and look at the true story it is based upon, it’s a horrific and important tale of the treacheries of the civil war, and the impact this had upon the common folk. It is extremely fascinating, and Newton Knight is a man who deserves a more prominent spot in the history books. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of him until this movie came around, and I know I’m not alone.

For all I know, there could very well be a documentary that tells the tale of Newton Knight. I haven’t seen one, nor have I heard of one existing. If one were to exist, I would certainly track it down, as, like I’ve said already, this truly is a fascinating story. The horrors of what went down are almost unspeakable, but if we don’t speak of what happened, that’s even worse. It’s a story that needs to be told, although preferably in a better movie.



Free State of Jones Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) and his men image



Clocking in at a whopping two hours and twenty minutes, one would expect this historical epic to elevate its already interesting story into a film that could potentially be winning Oscars. Much like 12 YEARS A SLAVE a few years back, if done right, this movie could’ve been brilliant. It’s brimming with potential, yet this potential is never met. There’s so many promises of greatness that are instead replaced with tedious scenes depicting the aftermath of what could’ve been something really interesting to watch unfold. All of the exciting aspects of this movie are told to us through speeches or title cards.

I didn’t realise two and a half hour movies could be so uneventful, but FREE STATE OF JONES proves they can be. Admittedly, the film starts out promisingly, showcasing a brutal and gruesome battle that, while not as emotional as it thinks it is, is both thrilling and shocking, and the makeup artists deserve some serious recognition for their work in this scene. It had a lot of audience members covering their eyes.

While it starts strong, as soon as we were shown a minute long shot of Matthew McConaughey walking his horse over a hill, followed by another minute long shot of him walking it through some trees, it was becoming abundantly clear that this movie was slowing down fast. From there on out, nothing of any importance occurs for a very, very long time, and boy is it exhausting. Keeping my eyelids open became a struggle, and it’s a battle I almost lost.


Free State of Jones Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) and his men image




Writer-director Garry Ross, the man behind PLEASANTVILLE and the original HUNGER GAMES, is neither fantastic, nor terrible. Like almost every aspect of this film, he is simply… okay. There’s never anything that stands out as top-notch filmmaking, or any shots that made me go “wow.” The cinematography is actually rather mediocre, utilizing about three different types of shots all up. There’s close ups, mid shots and wide’s, and I think that’s about it. But hey, at least the camera was held still and I could see what was happening, unlike his last directorial effort with THE HUNGER GAMES, which had incomprehensibly shot action sequences.

The performances, however, are a slight step up. Gone are the days of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. Matthew McConaughey has once again proven to be a tremendous actor with great dramatic range, and while this isn’t nearly his best performance, it certainly shows just how talented this man is. Kerri Russell, on the other hand, just seems to be phoning it in, never displaying any emotional range or providing any humanity to her character. She was a big disappointment.


FREE STATE OF JONES is a movie that had so much wasted potential. This could’ve been a classic. This could’ve been a movie we’d all be hailing as a masterpiece ten years down the track. But nope, instead we are given a two and a half hour history lecture that’s not even half as exciting as the true story of which it’s based on. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a good one either. It’s just a disappointing one.


2 and a Half Pops




When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages, and has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.