Movie Review: “Free State of Jones”

Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Christopher Berry, Sean Bridgers
Gary Ross

Gary Ross’ movies are nothing if not sincere and, generally speaking, kindhearted. This time around, the writer/director behind “Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit” and the first “Hunger Games” tackles far tougher material with “Free State of Jones,” a biopic mostly about Confederate Army medic Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey). The film is often unwieldy, narratively speaking, but it’s also not without passion, telling a story that is frequently more brutal than inspiring.

The year is 1963, and though Newton has apprehensively signed up to fight in the Civil War, he opposes slavery and the ways of the Confederate Army. After his nephew is killed in combat, Knight becomes a deserter, sick of fighting in a war that he doesn’t believe in. He returns to Jones County, where he’s hunted by Confederates, and eventually flees with his wife Serena (Keri Russell), who ends up leaving Jonestown altogether. While hiding out in a swamp, Newt meets a group of escaped slaves, including Moses (Mahershala Ali) and his future wife Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), both of whom he develops close bonds to. Newton, Moses and others lead a rebellion against the Confederates, which is only the setup to a story that covers more time than one would think.

It’s easy to imagine the “white savior” version of “Free State of Jones,” but this isn’t that story, and Ross doesn’t treat it as such. The side characters, mostly Moses and Rachel, are at the forefront of this story almost as much as Newton Knight. Their arcs and struggles are the emotional backbone of the film. Of course, Jones is the lead, but this isn’t only his story. As for whether this is a white savior story, this is a film filled more with loss and pain than it is with Newton saving the day, and the characters he’s surrounded by often find the courage in themselves to stand up without his assistance. Most of the tropes linked to white savior stories are not present in here. Newton Knight is an inspiring figure, but he’s no more inspiring than Moses and other supporting characters.

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30 Sexiest TV Actresses of 2013

Television has always been home to a parade of beautiful actresses, and with the explosion of cable TV and now Netflix, the roles have even become sexier over the years. Here are some of our favorites from 2013:

Lizzy Caplan

This sexy brunette oozes sex appeal, and she was perfect as the sexually liberated Virginia Johnson in the new Showtime series “Masters of Sex.” She certainly wasn’t shy about showing off her impressive body as her character dove into her work researching how the female body responded during sex. This was by far the sexiest new show on television this year which shouldn’t be a surprise given the subject matter, and we saw a parade of lovely actresses disrobing as Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters began their study, though some of the best scenes took place when the two of them took part in their own study. “Masters of Sex” has established itself as one of the best shows on television as this period drama pulls the curtain on an era where most conversations about sex were taboo, and the show works mostly due to Caplan and costar Michael Sheen as Masters. Check out our interview with Lizzy from 2010.

Episode 109
Photo courtesy of Showtime by Michael Desmond

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