Free State Of Jones

There’s undoubtedly an interesting historical story underpinning this drearily-staged period war film. It’s about Newton Knight, who revolted against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi during the 1860s with the help of a band of armed men and women, which included freed slaves. They fought several skirmishes with the Confederate authorities, but here the group is simplified for the big screen and presented as a kind of Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men of the American South, with only minor insider squabbles – the result of simmering, uneasy race relations – really threatening to derail their operations. Matthew McConaughey attempts to bring heavy doses of charisma to the table as Knight, and he’s supported by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as his wife Rachel and Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington, a key aide, but their decent work is undone by a general torpor that seems to infest nearly every scene, whether the romantic ones or those depicting bloody battles. The film does little to challenge accusations that Hollywood’s long-held love of the white saviour story is alive and well, which perhaps it could have done by painting Knight in a more nuanced, less-heroic fashion, and the sudden, jarring cuts to a 1940s miscegenation case involving Newton Knight’s great-grandson Davis are clumsily-rendered. There’s some nice photography, though. (**)