Worthy, long, always handsome and interesting yet given to patches of dull, Free State of Jones is a better history lesson than it is a movie.
Despite the best efforts of Matthew McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha Raw, the true-life story of a white army deserter and his subsequent leading of a slaves revolt in 1860s Mississippi never quite shakes the shackles of its own ambitions.
There’s an attempt to link the abolition-era struggles to a later 1950s court case involving a descendant of McConaughey’s character, which is in itself a fascinating story (echoes of the Jeff Nicholl’s movie Loving which played at Cannes) but which might have been better as a movie on its own.
Indeed, given the breadth and epic scope this film’s aiming for, one wonders why it wasn’t a 8-part Netflix of Amazon event, where its details and politics could have been given more room to breathe.
It’s rare to wish a film were longer, but I really felt this was cramming it all in and thus ticking off cliches and boxes where characters and drama should have been.
That said, watch out for Mahershala Ali, who plays the freed slave Moses here – he’s brilliant, just as he was as Remy in House of Cards and in the upcoming Moonlight – this is his year.