Movies cover many different topics, from comic book characters to science fiction to romance, comedy and more. Even history movies sometimes sneak into the scene, including one currently in theaters, The Free State of Jones. Here are some thoughts a recent viewing produced about this newest film on the Civil War era.
Free State is an enjoyable and entertaining movie, telling the story of a deserter from the Confederate army, his disillusionment with the Confederate cause and how he joined with escaped slaves and other army deserters to resist the Confederate authority, taxation laws and harassment of their families. It also shows some of the difficulties of the post-war Reconstruction period, especially for African-Americans and then, surprisingly, also includes an example of how the legacy of the war and Reconstruction lasted well into twentieth-century Mississippi. Issues of race did not disappear with the end of the war or of Reconstruction, and involved more than just skin color.
Free State is a long movie but the filmmakers use the time well to tell these stories. I thought it could have actually used more time to deal with Reconstruction a bit more thoroughly, but perhaps it is long enough as is, about two-and-a-half hours.
Though the storyline is based around a lesser-known part of the Civil War, this film is not just for history buffs. It features a lot of action, quite intense at times, and delves into non-war subjects like love, relationships, racial roles and family relations. Military issues are part of the movie as well, but this is more than just a “war movie.” The characters – some likeable, others less so – are the main focus of the story.
Newton Knight is the main character, the former soldier turned rebel leader. The film moves from his war experiences to his escape from Confederate authorities, to his leadership of a motley group of escaped slaves and army deserters in a fight against the southern army and Confederate policies while exploring his relationship with a slave woman named Rachel. This relationship is another important piece of the story, including implications that lasted well into the future. An escaped slave who adopted the name Moses is another important figure, especially in the last part of the story, while a couple of army officers come across as unlikeable, the villains every movie needs.
Free State of Jones is a fascinating movie, an entertaining look at an important but not well-known chapter of American Civil War history. Aside from the historical storyline, however, the characters and the stories of their relationships, courage and actions make this a film well worth the time it takes to watch it. It is just a good story. Go see it.