Free State of Jones (Blu-ray) (2016)

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Released 23-Nov-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Featurette-The History of Jones County (18:01)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 139:38
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gary Ross
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Matthew McConaughey
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Mahershala Ali
Keri Russell
Bill Tangradi
Joe Chrest
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Nicholas Britell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Free State of Jones tells one of the most unusual and incredible true stories of the American Civil War and its immediate aftermath: in 1864, led by Newton Knight, runaway Negro slaves and Confederate army deserters in three counties in Mississippi rebelled and seceded from the Confederacy declaring themselves the “Free State of Jones”. The film Free State of Jones, written and directed by Gary Ross (who has been nominated for three writing Oscars including for Seabiscuit (2003)), covers not just the events during the war but also afterwards, when the prospect of freedom and equality for the Negros of Mississippi did not turn out as promised. Indeed, Free State of Jones includes an additional story showing that 85 years after the Civil War Davis Knight, a descendent of Newt Knight who was judged to be one-eight Negro, was prosecuted and gaoled in Mississippi for marrying a white woman, mixed marriages still being unlawful in Mississippi.

     Free State of Jones begins in October 1862 in the middle of a bloody battle. Conscripted poor white farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) deserts, disgusted by the carnage and wondering why he, a man who does not own slaves, should fight for the slave owners who have been exempted from military service by a new law. Newt returns to his home in Jones County and his wife Serena (Keri Russell) and infant son to discover that Confederate soldiers have been confiscating grain and food from the farms of the poor whites while the men are away in the army. His opposition to a confiscation party led by a Lieutenant (Bill Tangradi) leads to Newt being hunted and injured by Confederate soldiers. He finds shelter in the swamp with Negro runaways led by Moses (Mahershala Ali) and is later joined by other Confederate deserters including his friend Jasper (Christopher Berry). Serena cannot cope with the pressure and leaves the area while Newt in the swamp becomes attracted to Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an illiterate house slave on the large estate of planter James Eakins (Joe Chrest).

     As the number of the men in the swamp continues to grow they start intercepting wagons of confiscated corn and grain and hiding it away for the use of the farmers. The local Confederate commanders retaliate by burning farms which only fuels the flame of armed rebellion which spreads until Newt and his men control 3 counties and capture the town of Ellisville. They ask for Federal arms and support, but none are forthcoming. Threatened by fresh confederate troops, they declare a Free State of Jones and retreat once more into the swamps until the Confederacy surrenders in April 1865.

     While the slaves are freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, conditions don’t really change. Confederate slave owners like Eakins swear allegiance to the government and are permitted to return to their plantations and by local laws are allowed to “apprentice” former slaves. Although Negros are given the right to vote, the whites retain control of the law and the Ku Klux Klan is established, burning black churches and murdering Negroes. So Newt, who fought with many of the Negros and who now has a mixed race child with Rachael, still has a fight on his hands.

     There were eleven historical consultants credited in the closing titles of Free State of Jones, and it is almost as if the filmmakers tried to fit too much of the history into the film’s 140 minute running time. The film does cover an extended period, the years 1862 to 1876, so is necessarily episodic in nature and it uses on-screen captions plus archival photographs to provide background which gives the film on occasion a documentary feel. There are also a lot of subsidiary characters, black and white, who are thinly sketched and flit in and out of the plot. Matthew McConaughey dominates both the screen time and the picture itself, but this means that the fate of some of the others is not as moving as it could have been. The addition of the modern trial, which is no doubt important to show the continued racism of the laws of Mississippi eight decades after the end of the Civil War, does feel clumsy.

     Free State of Jones certainly has an epic feel. The opening battle features disturbingly graphic blood and gore, both during the carnage on the battlefield, with soldiers being blown to pieces, and in the mayhem within the field hospitals with blood and entrails everywhere and limbs severed with bone saws without anaesthetics. Matthew McConaughey is a brave actor, not afraid to take on challenging roles; he won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and he is compelling in Free State of Jones. However, despite his star power and the well-staged battles the film did not perform well at the box office, perhaps because it raised issues of race that are still unresolved in today’s America. As an Australian neutral I think Free State of Jones is a prime example of a passionate and well-meaning film trying to tell an important story about aspects of US society during and after the Civil War that gets bogged down in exposition, detail and history, and so becomes rather ponderous and loses track of first being a film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Free State of Jones is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     Shot using Arri Alexa cameras this is not the best demonstration of Blu-ray. The opening battle has a deliberately grainy and washed out look and while colours on the farms are bright, the colours in the swamp are, understandably, more dull and muted under the trees. Close up detail is very good, the dirt and blood on faces, the blood and entrails in the medical tent are clear showing all the carnage of battle in the Civil War. Blacks are fine while shadow detail was occasional indistinct. Skin tones are natural, contrast and brightness consistent. Other than a bit of motion blur, marks and artefacts were absent.

     English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
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Overall

Audio

     The audio is English DTS-HA MA 5.1.

     Dialogue is clear although with some of the southern accents not always easy to understand. The battle scenes were stunning and immersive, placing us right into the middle of the carnage. Canons and muskets boom, men yell and scream, the impacts of slugs on flesh and bone are sickening, explosions reverberate and debris and dirt rain down. In the swamp there are the sounds of water, birds and insects. Elsewhere there is the thunder of hooves, the voices of crowds and the score by Nicholas Britell. The subwoofer added boom to the explosions, hooves, impacts and the score.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The History of Jones County (18:01)

     Residents of Jones County, Mississippi, an author, local professor and a number of descendants of Newton Knight talk about the man, his values, the issues that drove him to desert the army, his relationship with a Negro woman and the events after the end of the war, when his fight continued. This is well worth a look.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A/B US Blu-ray of Free State of Jones is identical to this release, except it adds Spanish and French subtitles and a DVD, if that is of any interest.

Summary

     The legacy of Newton Knight even today remains controversial in the south; to some he is a hero, to others a traitor. Despite the star power of Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Free State of Jones did not perform well at the box office but those who avoided the film are missing out on a well-made, well-acted action film with things to say about injustice, powerful elites and race that are still relevant today.

     The video and audio are fine. The extra is an informative adjunct to the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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