Free State of Jones


Gary Ross, writer-director of such sermonizing entertainments as “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit,” has returned with another didactic drama, “Free State of Jones,” starring an appropriately unhygienic Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a Mississippi man who rebelled against the Rebels during the Civil War and gathered a small army to fight conscription. (There’s also a completely irrelevant subplot, set 85 years later, about Mississippi’s legacy of segregation.)

Ross’ intentions are probably good, whatever they are, but in covering not just the war but Reconstruction, he tries to cram an eight-hour miniseries’ worth of material into one overlong movie. The result is an airless history lesson whose educational value (Reconstruction doesn’t get enough attention in movies) doesn’t outweigh its aimlessness.

C (2 hrs., 19 min.; R, some brutal war violence and other graphic images.)