Free State of Jones (film)
Free State of Jones is a 2016 American historical period war film inspired by the life of Newton Knight and his armed revolt against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, throughout the American Civil War. Written and directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell.
|Free State of Jones|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gary Ross|
|Screenplay by||Gary Ross|
|Music by||Nicholas Britell|
|Distributed by||STX Entertainment|
|Box office||$25 million|
It was released in the United States by STXfilms on June 24, 2016. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed only $25 million against its $50 million production budget.
The story is based on the history of Jones County, Mississippi during the Civil War and the period immediately after. The overall story follows the history of Jones County, and some of the events portrayed are true. The film is credited as being "based on the books The Free State of Jones by Victoria E. Bynum and The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer."
After surviving the 1862 Battle of Corinth and being told of the Twenty Negro Law, Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County serving as a battlefield nurse in the Confederate Army, deserts and returns home to his farm and his wife, Serena, after seeing his nephew Daniel get shot and killed. While there, he befriends Rachel, an enslaved woman who has secretly learned to read.
Newton's disenchantment with the Confederacy grows after finding out that troops were taking crops and livestock for taxes. After helping one family resist such a raid, he is pursued by Confederate agents and bitten by an attack dog. With the help of abolitionist-oriented Aunt Sally and multiple slaves, he escapes to a swamp where some runaway slaves led by Moses Washington tend to his wounds.
After the Siege of Vicksburg, many more rebel soldiers desert, and many of them end up at the swamp, where Newton becomes their captain. The ex-Confederates and runaway slaves form a revolt against the Confederacy. They raid Confederate convoys and capture a piece of southeast Mississippi, organizing it as the "Free State of Jones." Despite getting little help from the Union, they manage to hold out until the end of the war.
Newton continues to fight racial inequality after the war. He helps free Moses' son from an "apprenticeship" to Rachel's former master. After Moses is lynched while registering freedmen to vote, Newton participates in a march of voters to the polls while everyone sings John Brown's Body.
Newton and Rachel have a son, Jason. Since they are unable to legally marry, Newton arranges to deed a parcel of land to her. The story is interspersed with the story of Newton's great-grandson, Davis Knight, who is arrested under Mississippi's miscegenation laws in 1948. Since he is possibly of one-eighth black descent, under Mississippi law at that time he is considered black, and therefore could not legally marry his long-time white sweetheart. He is sentenced to five years in prison, but his conviction is thrown out by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1949, rather than risk the law being declared unconstitutional.
- Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight
- Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel
- Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington
- Keri Russell as Serena Knight
- Christopher Berry as Jasper Collins
- Sean Bridgers as Will Sumrall
- Jacob Lofland as Daniel
- Thomas Francis Murphy as Elias Hood
- Bill Tangradi as Lieutenant Barbour
- Brian Lee Franklin as Davis Knight
- Kerry Cahill as Mary/Yeoman Farmer
- Joe Chrest as James Eakins
- Jessica Collins as Annie
- Kirk Bovill as Merchant
- Donald Watkins as Wilson
- Artrial Clark as Eli
- Manny Penton as Surgeon
- Wayne Pére as Colonel Robert Lowry
The film was a passion project for Ross who spent ten years developing it. Ross was initially drawn to make the movie out of a desire to examine the Reconstruction era south, an era that, according to him, is poorly represented in film, with him giving Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation as examples of "the last movies that did it". In preparation Ross did a "tremendous amount of research", studying not only the Civil War but also the historiography of the war, the latter because he wanted "to debunk a lot of the myths" surrounding the events. Speaking to Slash Film about the research for the film Ross remarked that " I don’t think I did anything but read for a couple of years"
Ross finished writing the film prior to working on The Hunger Games, although he struggled to find much in way of financing: he felt that working on The Hunger Games would help him, and thusly declined to work on the sequels. Afterwards he still had trouble getting the movie made, which he attributes to the fact that "we're in a different kind of a popcorn universe now".
Matthew McConaughey's casting was announced in November 2014 with other casting announcements made in early 2015. Angelo Piazza III, Marksville, La. and Jack's Powder Keg Company participated in the production with their cannon and black powder.
Principal photography began on February 23, and was scheduled to end on May 28. On March 9, Adam Fogelson, Chairman of STX Entertainment announced the start of the production in and around New Orleans, with the release of a first look photo. In May 2015, shooting was scheduled for Clinton, with East Feliciana Parish as a filming set. On May 25, 2015, some filming took place at Chicot State Park near Ville Platte, Louisiana.
The film was released in the United States and Canada on June 24, 2016, alongside Independence Day: Resurgence and The Shallows and was projected to gross around $10 million in its opening weekend from 2,815 theaters. The film grossed $365,000 from its Thursday previews and $2.7 million on its first day. In its opening weekend the film grossed $7.6 million, finishing 6th at the box office behind Finding Dory ($73 million), Independence Day: Resurgence ($41 million), Central Intelligence ($18.2 million), The Shallows ($16.8 million) and The Conjuring 2 ($7.7 million).
On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has an approval rating of 46% based on 184 reviews and an average rating of 5.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "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." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 53 out of 100 based on reviews from 38 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
The New York Times selected it as a "critic's pick", and reviewer A. O. Scott called it "a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history" and said it used "the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath."
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