Director Gary Ross, formerly a maker of such harmless dramas as Seabiscuit, apparently got a dose of socially conscious “religion” while doing The Hunger Games. Here, he keeps that impulse rolling with the true story of a Civil War rebel soldier named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), whose doubts about the Southern cause make him desert the Confederate army and form his own Unionist free state in deepest Mississippi in 1865 — a commune in which freed slaves are treated equally to whites. Of course, the Free State of Jones is not allowed to survive. Ross’ authentically raw and grimy war tale — adapted by Ross from a story by Leonard Hartman — benefits from a strong cast of faces and voices, especially McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Knight’s second wife, a former slave. Think of it as a radically new take on a familiar American subject, with a new type of hero and message. Also with Mahershala Ali and Jacob Lofland. Recommended (139 min).
Director: Gary Ross
Producer: Jon Kilik, Gary Ross and Scott Stuber
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Berry, Sean Bridgers, Jacob Lofland, Kirk Bovill, Manny Penton, Thomas Murphy, Bill Tangradi, Brian Franklin, Kerry Cahill, Joe Chrest, Jessica Collins and Donald Watkins