I am not a movie critic. What I mean by that is I see a lot of movies and tend to dig into their story lines very deeply. It’s part of my own obsessive nature, to know about the ins and outs of every character and to discover the true meaning of a story. But I am not a filmmaker or a business insider so my observations are always done from the point of view of a movie lover. The past several weeks you have seen several of my reviews from the point of view of a fan, I am an X-Men fan or a Warcraft fan and I write from the perspective of a fan. But every once and awhile I go see a movie that attempts to tell a more serious and realistic story and I am forced to view the film from the eyes of a critic. It is in this perspective that I must approach reviewing the recent Civil War biopic, Free State of Jones.
This film tells the forgotten story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a southern farmer who served the confederate army as a medic before deserting due to both family issues and new laws passed in the South about who would serve in the military and who would be given a pass. The film tells the familiar story of the Civil War, slavery, and racism but from the unfamiliar point of view of a white southerner who not only believed that every man was a man regardless of race but that the poor should never have to fight a war simply to keep the rich in power. Knight’s story, and this movie, take on not only racial divides but the problems of financial inequality in the south.
Unfortunately I am forced to admit that the film suffered several problems including poor pacing and uneven visuals that make you sometimes feel like you are watching several history channel documentaries stitched together. Director Gary Ross attempts to tell several years of this mans life and it sadly leaves you waiting for powerful moments that never seem to come. I use words like “unfortunately” and “sadly” because the failure of the film results in a very important story being lost.
As I attempted to dig in to find a greater meaning other than the tale of Knight’s life, I personally found a profound undertone to the film that I feel will be lost on viewers due to it’s many problems. The film is not about Newton Knight or the Civil War, it is about inequality as a basic human ideal. The film shows very clearly that the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Special Field Order 15, or the 15th amendment are utterly useless as long as hatred and ignorance lives in people’s hearts and minds. It shows that every milestone that the government has put in place that was meant to make people equal are meaningless until people understand that a law is not what’s required for equality but a fundamental change in those men who feel it’s their duty to put another person down based solely on their blind hatred.
To sum up this admittedly uneven and strange review, I enjoyed this film. It was flawed from a technical standpoint but the great acting, solid script, and heavy theme made this a very entertaining and, I think, important film.