Movie review: "Free State of Jones" is tone-deaf history lesson

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

It's an odd bit of scheduling for "Free State of Jones" to come out this week against the sequel to "Independence Day" instead of last weekend. Father's Day would have made more sense.

It's a plodding and dry story that feels like something only a History Channel-addicted dad could love. And it's surprising how bad it is given the players.

Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a poor Mississippi farmer serving in the Confederate Army in the thick of the Civil War. When the loss of life hits close to home, Knight decides to desert the army, risking his life for the sake of his conscience.

Knight eventually leads a rebellion of Confederate deserters, former slaves and women and children against Confederate forces.

Despite McConaughey actively McConaughey-ing all over the screen and director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville," "Seabiscuit") at the helm, this is one of the more problematic movies of the year.

The narrative fumbles along through multiple preachy moral lessons inspired by the war, ranging from the obvious atrocity of slavery to the fact that the interests of the rich are paid for with the lives of the poor.

The lack of emotional impact comes from the construction, but the biggest problem with "Free State" is how singularly it focuses on McConaughey's character. For more reading on this, Google "white savior complex in film," something the makers of this one should have done beforehand.

"Free State of Jones"

Opens Friday

1 1/2 stars out of 4