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Free State of Jones
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Free State of Jones stars Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a real-life former soldier-turned-renegade. It's an intense, violent drama about a Civil War deserter who ended up leading one of the biggest wartime rebellions in U.S. history. Be ready for lots of wartime carnage -- including stomach-churning battle scenes with body parts blown off and blood everywhere -- and other violence and cruelty, including lynching and implied rape. Characters also drink and smoke a little and use language like "damn."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
FREE STATE OF JONES takes place in 1862, in Jones City, Mississippi, where a Confederate soldier named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) finds himself demoralized after witnessing a teen boy's death on a blood-soaked battlefield. Knight starts to question why he's fighting and for whom -- and, frankly, his purpose in a war that, to his eyes, benefits rich plantation owners who want to ensure that they get to keep their slaves. Meanwhile, men like him who have neither slaves nor riches are risking their necks while the slave owners stay home. Money apparently talks, prompting Knight to walk, but the world doesn't look kindly on deserters. So off he goes to hide in the swamps with escaped slaves. Soon Knight develops a strong belief that all men, regardless of race, are created equal, and that the war isn't serving any of them. In no time, he becomes the head of a rebellious group of deserters, local townsmen, and former slaves determined to fight the Confederates who are taking their land and hurting their families. It's a fight that doesn't end even after the South surrenders.
Is it any good?
This intense drama sheds light on a little-known but significant part of U.S. history, but while it starts off strong, it loses its way, packing in too many specifics into a meandering 139 minutes. McConaughey is in top form, very much looking and sounding the part, though he's still prone to relying perhaps too much on gesture, which sometimes give his portrayal the feel of caricature. Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings much grace and gravitas to her smaller role at Knight's wife.
The fascinating story of Free State of Jones is mostly served well by the script. But there's a caveat: A flash-forward to the mid-20th century is jarring, even though it's still somewhat related to Knight's fight for independence. This is a drama worth seeing, but you can't help longing that the editor had taken a stronger hand so that story bloat didn't weigh the film down.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Free State of Jones' violence. How much of it is necessary to the storytelling? How does it compare to what you might see in a big superhero action movie? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Newton Knight deserted the army: Was he disloyal and deserving of punishment, or was he an independent-minded man who only wanted to fight for what he believed in? Are both answers possible? How did seeing all the carnage around him affect his mindset about the war and the Confederacy?
Do you think the film portrays a complete and accurate picture of the era it takes place in? Why might filmmakers working from a true story not adhere strictly to the facts? How could you find out more about the actual events and people portrayed in the film?
- In theaters: June 24, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: September 20, 2016
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell
- Director: Gary Ross
- Studio: STX Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.