Review by Awais Irfan for CriticalPopcorn
The past few years have been fairly good to Matthew McConaughey, at the height of the McConaissance, from the likes of Mud to Magic Mike, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Interstellar, and more. One of his big films from last year, Free State of Jones, arrives on Digital today plus on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD from 20 February, but is it worth picking up?
The film – based on a true story – is set during the Civil War era, and follows the defiant Southern farmer Newt Knight (McConaughey) rising up against the Confederacy. Upon returning to Mississippi, the Confederate army deserter, joins forces with other deserters, fellow farmers, and slaves too, in an uprising against the corrupt Confederate government – launching Knight to become a very influential figure of defiance in history.
As much as it is a biopic, at its core, Free State of Jones is very much a historical period piece. Starting out on a positive note, this film very effectively conveys the Civil War time period of its setting – from the impeccable set design to the old-school costuming and props, such as weaponry, this film doesn’t falter in feeling like it’s set in 1862. The cinematography is great too, and this is a slickly directed picture too. Visually, and technically, Free State excels; director Gary Ross transports us back in time, and it feels grounded and real, and historically accurate. The action that takes place throughout is all incredibly helmed too – this a very convincing, detailed depiction of its time; from the style and aesthetic to the action and the combat too.
Matthew McConaughey is remarkable too, as our lead Newt. The actor gives a very subdued, understated performance and is the best aspect of this film. He feels very at home in this old-school environment, and you empathise for his character and his struggle. In fact, all of the performances across the board are great, and McConaughey gets some stellar support from the likes of Keri Russell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mahershala Ali (who had a big year in 2016). It’s just a shame that, aside from Newt, we don’t necessarily care a whole lot for the other supporting characters; the writing of them all feels a little lacklustre and we find ourselves struggling to really invest in anyone else, because they all come across as rather bland and one-dimensional.
It also has a rather bloated run-time of 139 minutes and struggles to maintain any steam for that length of time, so pacing becomes a big detriment to the proceedings, with the film really grounding to a halt every so often – in the second act, especially. The story is fascinating enough, but the film really loses its footing a lot, to the point where nothing is happening and it’s just boring to watch. And a lot of this film feels rather exhausting and underwhelming, as a result.
Review by Awais Irfan, please do visit his great site OasisAwais.