This is a movie about an unknown but important person in history who lived during the Civil War, Newton Knight. The story behind this film right from the start reminds all of us who live in this country how horrible the Civil War was and how difficult it was after the Civil War for this country to get past those horrible years where Americans killed other Americans.
The opening scene of “The Free State of Jones” depicts a Civil War battle and demonstrates the stupidity of how they use to fight in the 1800’s, which was essentially a line of young men marching slowly into oncoming gunfire and cannon explosions to their death. There were tactical reasons for fighting like this in those days, starting with the inaccuracy of weapons in the 1800’s, but watching battles like this that are so stupid and barbaric can at times be extremely hard to watch. The good news is that after this initial scene there are not too many battle scenes like this in the rest of the film, although there is a scene in a field hospital and the cutting off of limbs and a great deal of blood. All movies about the Civil War have to include scenes like this because to exclude the reality of a horrible war disrespects the many tens of thousands of young men who gave their lives during the worst period in this countries history.
“Free State of Jones” was the name for a group of freed slaves and deserters that were started by Newton Knight that over time grew to a great number of people who defended themselves against a Confederate army that was trying to arrest them and hang them for desertion. Eventually, this organization took the name Jones which was the county in Mississippi where the organization started. At one time The Free State of Jones was considered a county with no country as both the Confederate and Union armies refused to recognize them. This movie also includes a back-story 85 years in the future where a great-grandson of Newton was fighting to have the state not prosecute him for marrying a white woman because he contained a small percentage of black blood due to Newton Knights union with a black woman many years earlier. It’s always disheartening to see in any movie about the history of this country, the extreme bigotry in the backward attitudes most especially in the south towards black people and interracial relationships.
Matthew McConaughey does an excellent job playing Newton Knight in this film and he might get an academy award nomination for this important Civil War story that most people never knew about. I highly recommend this film.