One of the most surprising elements of this film is the fact that it's based on a true story. Now I know that sometimes many liberties are taken for drama sake and certainly this won't be that much different. However if there is one thing that will stand out from this film that you can't deny it is pretty authentic. Just read the following article to see where some real facts are compared to events in the film.
I am sure some people will take offense at this statement and that article. But you know what if you take in and think about what the film is showing it doesn't stray away too far from the current situation in America. The themes and issues that pass by in the film are still matters being dealt with today and it doesn't look like it is going to change anytime soon. The poor are still being oppressed by the rich and racism unfortunately still exists. Most essential is that this film exposes a very revealing but pretty unknown historic event. And why is this exactly? How come such an important part of the past has been hidden from the public? Well, one thing that jumps out is that the so called wonderful Confederate States weren't that wonderful which is putting it mildly. According to Jim Kelly a historian in Jones and descendant of Newton Knight (the main character and real historic figure portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) claims it has been deliberately erased. Read more about this in this article.
I don't know about you but that makes my blood boil. Sophisticated and civilized people are supposed to learn from the mistakes we make in the past and we always have to strive to change or improve ourselves and the world. Ignoring and forgetting the past only creates a stronger disconnect and divide from the truth and understanding each other. Especially in this case it is vital since we are struggling with the same issues today. Some of you really need to wake up and smell the coffee. Be more vigilant and critical about what you read and hear in the media. There are many sides to a story and you should always try to learn as much as you can before drawing conclusions. That being said I am very well aware that the film might paint the picture a little too black and white however the truth is shining through and should not be set aside or worse be ignored.
Sorry for my little rant there let me get back to the film itself. This film does not waste a second with trivial matters. It jumps straight to the time period that concerns Newton Knight and his perspective on the war and The Confederate States. It briefly shows you the horrors of that war and war in general. And if you ask me you can't show this often enough. It's not always glorious or honourable. The Free State of Jones has a few action scenes where the action is functional to the story and nothing more. If you by any chance were expecting something like piece periods like Glory or The Patriot then I will have to disappoint you. The focus is more on the characters and the events. But that is done so splendidly that you hardly will get bored. At one point the film does seem to be losing steam a little but this also is done in service of the story since it is depicting that a certain amount of time has passed. There are moments where the film jumps forward to the future where Davis Knight, great grandson of Newt Knight is put on trial accused of having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). While I understand these scenes were included they felt like after thoughts and were a little off. Although it does emphasize that inequality of this magnitude has not been that long ago.
The acting is magnificent. Matthew is perfect and impresses in many scenes and reminds you of his stellar performance in A Time to Kill. Mahershala Ali as Moses brings a depth and sincerity to his role as minimally as he can. He shows you how he feels. And it will break your heart many times. For the most part the film tries to avoid melodrama. But because of this, the few moments that confront you with some truths, are very heart wrenching. I liked how they implied some horrors more than showing the actual events. Even then it was hard to watch and found myself looking away and shaking my head because of sheer anger and disbelief. (This is how it should be done 12 Years a Slave.) Overall the film is compelling through and through and will thrust you into events right from the start. A must watch for sure.