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|
The story is based on the history of Jones County, Mississippi during the Civil War and the immediately following period. Although the plot of the movie is fiction, the overall story follows the history of Jones County, and many of the events portrayed are true. The film is credited as "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 medic 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 Confederates abandon their post, 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 south-east 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 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 Knight
- Keri Russell as Serena Knight
- Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington
- Brian Lee Franklin as Davis Knight
- Jacob Lofland as Daniel
- Bill Tangradi as Lieutenant Barbour
- Sean Bridgers as Will Sumrall
- Kirk Bovill as Merchant
- Christopher Berry as Jasper Collins
- Donald Watkins as Wilson
- Artrial Clark as Eli
- Manny Penton as Surgeon
- Wayne Pére as Colonel Robert Lowry
On November 5, 2014, an article on Deadline.com announced Matthew McConaughey would star as Newton Knight, a Civil War rebellion leader, with Gary Ross directing the film. STX Entertainment was scheduled to finance the film with up to $20 million of the $65 million budget. IM Global will co-finance it, while STX will release the film.
Jon Kilik, Scott Stuber and Ross produced the film. On January 6, 2015, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was set to play the role of Rachel, former slave and subsequently Knight's wife. Keri Russell and Mahershala Ali joined the Civil War drama on February 12, in which Russell was set to play Knight's wife, Serena Knight, while Ali was set to play Moses Washington, an escaped slave who joins Knight's rebellion.
Angelo Piazza III, Marksville, La. and Jack's Powder Keg Company participated in the production with their cannon and black powder.
In early February 2015, Project Casting reported that production was scheduled for February 23 to May 21 in New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana. On February 10, McConaughey was spotted rehearsing for the film in New Orleans and again on February 21 in costume. 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 around Ville Platte, Louisiana.
On February 25, 2015, STX Entertainment originally set a release date for March 11, 2016. In October 2015, STX Entertainment moved the date from March 11, 2016, to May 13, 2016. It was later announced in March 2016 that the date was moved from May 13, 2016, to June 24, 2016. The first trailer was released on January 9, 2016.
Free State of Jones grossed $20.8 million in North America and $4.2 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $25 million, against a production budget of $50 million.
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).
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On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has an approval rating of 47% based on 166 reviews and an average rating of 5.5/10. The site'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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- A. O. Scott, Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’, NYT Critics’ Pick, New York Times June 23, 2016, page C1 (Accessed 26 August 2016)