Free State of Jones (2016) - Rotten Tomatoes

Free State of Jones (2016)

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Critic Consensus: Free State of Jones has the noblest of intentions, but they aren't enough to make up for its stilted treatment of a fascinating real-life story.

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Directed by four-time Oscar (R) nominee Gary Ross and starring Oscar (R) winner Matthew McConaughey, Free State of Jones is an epic action-drama set during the Civil War, and tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.

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Cast

Matthew McConaughey
as Newton Knight
Keri Russell
as Serena Knight
Mahershala Ali
as Moses Washington
Liza J. Bennett
as Junie Lee
Christopher Berry
as Jasper Collins
Wayne Pére
as Col. Robert Lowry
Bill Tangradi
as Lt. Barbour
Brian Lee Franklin
as Davis Knight
Kerry Cahill
as Mary/Yeoman Farmer
Joe Chrest
as James Eakins
Troy Hogan
as George
Cade Mansfield Cooksey
as Older Coleman Brother
Dave Jensen
as Defense Attorney
Jim Kelly
as Court Clerk
Rhonda Dents
as Mabel Ely
David Maldonado
as Polling Station Clerk
Jane McNeil
as Woman in Courtroom
John Neisler
as Leonidas Polk
Sharon Landry
as Mrs. Coleman
Kurt Krause
as Injured Soldier
Andrew Petrotta
as Union Official
Joseph Hosey
as Joseph Collins
Henry Frost
as Orderly/Crying Soldier
Herbert P.J. Marshall
as Sergeant Battlefield
Lucy Faust
as Second Woman/Yeoman Farmer
Lara Grice
as Mrs. Eakins
Kylen Davis
as Boy/Alice Hotel
Kesha Bullard
as Moses' Wife
Jackson Beals
as Overseer
Sam Malone
as Cotton Field Worker
Garrett Kruithof
as Second Man
Jim Klock
as Farmer
Stella Allen
as Yeoman Girl
Camden Flowers
as Yeoman Girl
Carsen Flowers
as Yeoman Girl
Jason Ament
as Lt. Jensen
Kirk Bovill
as Merchant
Matthew Lintz
as Younger Coleman Brother
Mattie Liptak
as Daniel Whitehead
Trace Masters
as Newt's Son
Samantha Hopkins
as Eakins Daughter
Joe Girard
as Joseph
Brandon Hartley
as Bearded Soldier
Ann Hamilton
as Susie Mae
Paul Alan Webb
as Barn Farmer
Ethan Lee
as Barbour's Wagon Driver
Manny Penton
as Surgeon
Franny Levenstein
as Cornfield Woman
Monique Bilbo
as Cornfield Woman
Shelby Sanders
as Eakins Daughter
Melanie Hebert
as Eakins' Daughter
James G. Hanifen
as Hardware Store Clerk
Julia Holt
as Shrieking Woman
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News & Interviews for Free State of Jones

Critic Reviews for Free State of Jones

All Critics (170) | Top Critics (36)

A better film would have muddled the clean white-savior narrative with an actual exploration of what the racial politics of a mixed-race insurgency in the South might have been like.

July 11, 2016 | Full Review…

It certainly looks and sounds right, and probably smells right too -- these gunky Mississippi battles and unwashed soldiers feel authentic. The problem, as with McConaughey's performance, is that you always do feel it.

June 29, 2016 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

The director and screenwriter Gary Ross illuminates immense historical spans with the true story of one man's revolt during the Civil War.

June 27, 2016 | Full Review…

Ross bit off more than he can chew... the story lolls and wallows in wartime violence and the rebellion, then rushes through the horrors and trauma of Reconstruction.

June 24, 2016 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

A Civil War rebellion becomes an enervating movie by Gary Ross.

June 24, 2016 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

As inherently astonishing and powerful as this little-known episode is, it has not been well-served by Ross' lumpy, ill-conceived script, which ends up wasting Matthew McConaughey's terrific lead performance and other strong acting contributions.

June 24, 2016 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Free State of Jones

½

Matthew McConaughey stars in the extraordinarily compelling biopic the Free State of Jones. The film follows the life of Newt Knight, a medic in the Confederate Army who deserted to protect his hometown from looters and ended up leading a rebellion made up of deserters and runaway slaves. McConaughey gives an excellent performance and brings a lot of charisma to the film. However, the storytelling is a bit problematic, as it takes on too much; skipping around a lot and working in a subplot about Newt's great-grandson. However, the production values are especially good, giving an authentic look and feel for the time period. And the drama is really intense and exciting. Free State of Jones has a few problems, but overall it's a compelling film about a fascinating piece of American history.

Dann Michalski
Dann Michalski

Super Reviewer

"Free State of Jones" is an interesting history lesson -- although lacking the panache and dynamism of an actual history lesson. The script is plodding and unfocued, and the story is puzzlingly episodic. The costumes and locations are good, but McConaughey oozes contemporary morality and seems ill-suited for this period piece. The only noticably good acting was from Mahershala Ali. The film might have as lief been entitled "Talent-Free State of Jones". Spend your ticket money on popcorn and just hang out in the theater lobby, kids. This one's a stinker.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

½

Well meaning and somberly recreated, Free State of Jones is a historical drama that wants to illuminate the story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) who deserted from the Confederate army and seceded from the very people who seceded from the United States. Knight and the people of Jones county Mississippi declared themselves independent and awaited the consequences. At first the Confederate army is annoyed, but as armed skirmishes increase and Knight's team swells with poor farmers and runaway slaves, garnering Robin Hood-esque folk hero status, you're expecting an escalating level of force that will doom Newton. We've seen this kind of historical drama before where men (usually men) of courage and politics ahead of their time are stamped out by the forces of oppression and we then celebrate their noble sacrifice. I kept waiting for Jones to go this route, and then (slight historical spoilers) the Civil War ends and instead the last half hour is an episodic history tour that includes the rise of the KKK, registering freed black men for voting, and early voter suppression acts. There is also a storyline strewn throughout that takes place in a 1940s Mississippi courtroom. At first you're left scratching your head about the flash forwards, and then the connections come to bear. We're watching Knight's (great?) grandson and his legal troubles because the courts don't know whether he's the byproduct of Newton's first wife (Kerri Russell), who left him, or his common law second wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a former slave. It's a storyline that just doesn't really gel with the movie as a whole and really only serves to remind you that 100 years later Mississippi was still a pretty terrible place to live. Free State of Jones' failure is that it doesn't make this slice of history emotionally engaging. We don't get a strong sense of whom Newton is as a person except for his 99% rabble rousing. His relationship with Mbatha-Raw's character is the most engaging part of the film given its inherent conflict, and I'll credit writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) with how restrained he is about dealing with her sexual abuse from slavery. The relationship is treated very tenderly and Mbatha-Raw aces her scenes. Also warning to dog lovers: there are several sequences of violence against man's best friend that will be hard to watch. Free State of Jones works better as a history lesson rather than as a fully formed movie. Nate's Grade: C+

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

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