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Non-Review Review: Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones does a decent job approximating the feel of a prestige picture.

Free State of Jones feels almost like writer and director Gary Ross is running through a checklist of all the elements expected from a successful prestige picture. It deals with heavy subject matter, unfolding primarily during the Civil War and touching upon Reconstruction. It is paced indulgently, never rising to more the a sitting trot. It is anchored in performance by a critically-acclaimed Oscar-winning actor who dominates the film. Its cinematography is uncomplicated and stately. It is laboured with a framing device that offers the illusion of depth.

When the dust settles...

When the dust settles…

Free State of Jones plays as an imitation of a much bolder and provocative film. There are points at which the film brushes up against potentially brilliant ideas, only to back away. For a film about slavery, Free State of Jones finds itself unable to look beyond its white leading character. The framing and scene composition is clearly intended to seem dignified, but instead feels lifeless. The film’s perspective is limited, in both a literal and figurative sense. There are a lot of interesting ideas inside Free State of Jones, but none of them are allowed to grow.

There is a heavy earnestness to Free State of Jones, but it suffocates the story.

Riding shotgun on secession.

Riding shotgun on secession.

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