Free State of Jones

Ambitious, earnest and frequently riveting historical drama about the real-life Mississippi farmer (a charismatic Matthew McConaughey) who led a group of fellow deserters and runaway slaves in an armed campaign against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Writer-director Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit") spent a decade researching the project in collaboration with various scholars and painstakingly provides historical context using screen titles and other slightly less obvious guideposts, which can give the film a lumbering feel. (There is also a companion web site: freestateofjones.info). The sense that every emotional reaction and cognitive response has been calculated in an attempt to craft a rousing, informative picture means the story doesn't unfold as organically or artfully as it might. Yet with the help of first-rate cinematography and design work, it stands as a powerful, thought-provoking piece of popular entertainment suitable for mature adolescents despite the complex and often harsh subject matter.
Watch out for: Frequent graphic war violence including some grisly images, several hangings, the brutal execution of a wounded soldier, off-camera sexual exploitation of a woman, many racial epithets, and one use of crude and one of crass language.
Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: R

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016