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Free State Of Jones

DePalma

June 23, 2016

Free State of Jones

(**) R

If the merits of a film set during the American Civil War were based solely on the technical contributions of the filmmakers, then Free State of Jones would surely rise to the top. The early battle scenes, graphic as they may be, underscore the horror of war in a way that we’ve certainly seen in many WWII films over the years but less often in films that probe deeper into the Civil War era. The scenes involving dismemberment of soldiers and such are gripping to be sure and there’s certainly no argument to be made on that count. Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) certainly has an undeniable flair for staging action sequences. It’s when the film’s story begins to unfold that the problematic side of the film begins to rear its head. Ross may be in command of the action but he’s yet to win me over in the storytelling department. Scenes involving the film’s more dramatic fireworks are, curiously, emotionally muted. You can feel the drama beginning to unfold and then Ross cuts away to the aftermath in individual scenes. As a result, the emotional catharsis that you expect as an audience member fails to materialize.

Free State of Jones is based, supposedly, on a true story. The gist of the tale is the curious one of Confederate soldier Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey), who makes the decision to lead an inside rebellion against the Confederacy after witnessing untold carnage while serving as a medic during the war.

Matthew McConaughey in Free State of Jones

After he fails to save the life of a young draftee, Newt decides its better to lead the charge against the injustices he feels are being done at the hands of the Confederacy than continue in his present role. He enlists a group of renegade slaves in his quest and soon realizes that being a rebel carries its own price tag.  Sandwiched in between the film’s main story are subplots involving Newt’s estrangement from his wife (Keri Russell) and his love affair with a slave. If that isn’t enough to keep up with, the film then zooms ahead 85 years and attempts to tie in another story involving the fate of Newt’s son who was a product of his love affair with the former servant. All of these subplots serve to saddle the film with a running time that’s at least forty minutes too long.

The film wears its heart on its sleeve at times and you have to give it credit for attempting to inject something new into the worn out genre of the Civil War film but there’s nothing really new to be seen here. Free State of Jones is the type of film that could have used some streamlining and, as a result, falls victim to its meandering nature.

Free State of Jones is playing in Hickory and around the area.

DePalma (*** ½) R

My respect and admiration for director Brian DePalma has been mentioned more than once in the pages of this publication. I say that because it should be taken into consideration before reading my review of the feature length documentary of the filmmaker’s works that’s now playing in theaters (in Charlotte, at press time -Ed.). It would definitely be correct to assume that I’m more than a bit prejudiced when it comes to the man and his films. So there you have my full disclosure.

Watching DePalma’s films during my formative years proved to be my first awakening to the science of film technique as, up until my initial introduction to the director’s works, I had never given a thought to what goes into the craft of filmmaking. As a teen I watched Blow Out, Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Body Double with rapt attention and first seriously felt the highs that only filmmaking of this level of craft can supply. I was a movie fan before then but it would be correct to state that the cinema of Brian DePalma took me to the next level.

DePalma, the film, is co-directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, two filmmakers who obviously share the same sort of love and affection for DePalma and his six decade body of work that I feel.

Director Brian DePalma

The basic structure of the film is to just turn the camera on the man and let him reel off anecdotes about all of the 29 films that he’s made during his career. He’s 75 years old now and has lots of great stories to tell involving both his hits and his failures. Of the latter, he’s very forthcoming and critical of his own failings, which is refreshing to see in light of the current state of overinflated egos that currently populate the business. We do get some biographical glimpses into the man behind the camera (most interesting is his strained relationship with his father) and he’s also forthcoming with some occasional gossip, relating stories of Orson Welles’ inability to remember his lines and actor Cliff Robertson’s bullying personality during the making of Obsession, to cite a few examples. The film is also peppered with many clips from the director’s films and part of the giddy kick I got out of the film was seeing them projected on a big screen, having seen them only on the home video front for so many years.

The question that begs to be answered is will the average moviegoer appreciate DePalma? In my estimation the answer is yes. It’s true that most average audience members won’t hang on every word uttered in the film as I did, but there’s certainly enough to be gleaned during the unspooling of the movie that I can definitely recommend the film to a general audience. And, as a bonus, you might just learn something about filmmaking in the process.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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