Free State of Jones Review

Free State of Jones

Jonathan ‘freeman’ Campbell.

Someone called me this the other day, and it certainly has a ring to it.

And while it’s true that I’ve managed to create a degree of economic freedom from this capitalist society we exist in, you can never be free enough in this life.

Just ask Newton Knight.

Ok, so he’s been dead for a hundred years now, so you can’t literally ask him – but you can watch Matthew McConaughey play Newt in his new film Free State of Jones.

Which is the next best thing.

It’s the american civil war, and things are just about as upside down as they can be.

Slavery’s legal, poor folk are being forced to shoot each other over cotton and – craziest of all – Republicans are actually the good guys.

Try getting your head round that in this age of trump.

President Abe Lincoln has decreed slavery illegal, but this don’t sit too well with the rich white folk down south who’ve literally made their fortunes off the lives of slaves.

Poor white folk are getting a raw deal too, as they’re conscripted to fight and die in someone else’s war.

But don’t worry, because here’s a flag and some bullshit bastardisation of patriotism to fool simple minded folk into believing they’ll die with ‘honour’, whatever that means.

It don’t mean much to Newton Knight, which is why he’s fashioned a military career as a human ambulance, ferrying dying men from the killing fields to their death beds.

Better that than taking a long lie down yourself.

Now Knight is a dangerous man, because he’s clever, educated and has no interest in playing the capitalist game for his own ends.

All he really wants is to live free and, after his nephew dies in his arms, that’s exactly what Newt sets his mind to doing.

Of course, living free in 19th century america was even harder than it is today, but then whoever wanted an easy life?

Not Newton Knight.

Being an english philistine, I have no clue about american history or what happened in their civil war, other than the basics.

So I’m glad Free State of Jones could set me straight on some of this.

Turns out Newton Knight was a real life Robin Hood type, who lived in the swamps of mississippi and inspired a company of deserters and slaves to resist the confederate armies and live free in County Jones.

McConaughey’s his usual charming self on screen, and there are plenty of familiar faces from True Detective and Mud that he’s brought along for the ride.

But Free State of Jones isn’t really about its famous faces.

Watching the never ending racial tension from the right side of the Atlantic ocean, it’s hard to understand why these problems exist on the scale that they do.

Inevitably, these seeds were sown in the past, but they’ve also been steadily maintained in the present by some southern folk who refuse to let go of their shameful past.

Free State of Jones shines a light on some of the shocking acts that became law in some states of america, and that will be this film’s legacy.

After all, living free is hard enough without small minded people dragging you down to their level.

Jonathan Campbell

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September 2016
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