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Why Critics Couldn’t Keep Up with “Jones”

July 6, 2016

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I just got back from seeing Free State of Jones at my local theater, which now offers $5 tickets on Tuesdays. I didn’t want to spend more on it because a) I felt burned after shelling out $13.50 to endure The Legend of Tarzan yesterday and b) it earned only 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I should know better than to trust that website, because who cares about an aggregate of people’s opinions if most are idiots?

That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why critics didn’t get behind Jones while raving about crap like A Bigger Splash (89% “fresh”!). This is a “good, moving, complicated film”—as The New York Times‘ Vincent Canby, a critic I respected, described another Civil War epic, 1989’s Glory—and it needed the support of cinephiles as it swam upstream against such big fish as Finding Dory. Sure, some serious writers like The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott  appreciated cowriter-director Gary Ross’ important saga, but others who shall remain nameless complained about its length and grandiloquent tone (actually, they didn’t use the word grandiloquent—they probably don’t know what it means).

I’m here to testify: Ignore the lemmings’ groupthink. Free State of Jones is well worth your $5, or $13.50, for that matter. Matthew McConaughey gets back on track after his Interstellar misstep with a towering performance as Newton Knight, a Confederate deserter who led a rebellion against the rebels from within the Deep South. Ross deftly stages both harrowing battle sequences and tender scenes of intimacy between Knight and the two women in his life, his wife (Keri Russell) and a freed slave (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who became his soulmate for life. A fascinating parallel plot tracks the court case of one of Knight’s descendants (Brian Lee Franklin), who was tried for breaking miscegenation laws because he was believed to be one-eighth African-American and married a white woman in 1940s Mississippi.

The supporting cast includes such standouts as House of Cards‘ Mahershala Ali as a man namethfrnd Moses who’s freed from the literal yoke of slavery and becomes a voting-rights activist, Rectify‘s electrifying Sean Bridgers as one of Knight’s ex-Confederate comrades, and an actor named Thomas Francis Murphy (left), who has a face that looks like it came straight from one of Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, as a sadistic Southern officer. I must confess I’d never heard of Murphy before, but I promise you I will never forget his visage, especially during his character’s climactic battle with McConaughey’s Knight.

So please, I urge you, exercise your freedom as a moviegoer and see Free State of Jones in the aftermath of this year’s Independence Day — and no, I don’t mean the horrendous Resurgence, which I sadly paid to see last weekend due to a Moviefone snafu. You can’t trust any of these websites, I tell ya! Well, except this one…

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