Matthew McConaughey surrenders the comforts his designer suits and newest Lincoln to take on the role of Newton Knight, among the first civil rights activists who emerged during the Civil War.
Knight was serving as a nurse in the Confederate Army, attending to the wounded, but had significant issues with the war which he believed was being fought for cotton and slavery. When his nephew shows up, Knight agrees to try and keep him safe, but when the teen is killed by a sniper, Knight leaves to take him home to his mother.
When he returns home to Jones County, he decides to remain with his wife, Serena (Keri Russell) and infant child, rather than return, making him a target as a deserter. Knight makes a stand against Confederate soldiers who continue to pillage the supplies and resources of family farms in the county, making him public enemy No. 1.
Now in hiding, Knight is forced to go into town and seek the help of a local barkeep to find medical care for his child. A young slave woman, Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), from an area plantation comes and nurses the child back to health. Knight, being pursued by Confederate soldiers, with the help of a local bar owner, flees into the swamps where he is linked up with a small contingent of slaves also seeking asylum. They soon begin relying on each other and as more war deserters arrive, a small community forms, but the former slaves still find themselves on the outside.
Knight unites them to fight together against the common enemy -- the Confederate soldiers -- to take back their county and protect what belongs to them, beginning with their families.
Knight also builds a close bond with one of the slaves, Moses Washington (Mahershaia Ali), and as they spend more time together, Knight and Rachel also grow together. With his wife gone, the two find themselves engaged in a romance.
But even after the war ends, the struggle continues as Mississippi Klan numbers begin to grow and commit atrocities against the newly freed citizens.
Mixed in with the period piece is a court room drama set 80-plus years in the future, centered around a descendant of Knight who has mixed blood. His intention to marry a white woman -- with laws still prohibiting interracial marriages -- puts him on trial.
While the movie centers around Knight, the transitional court scenes demonstrate all the sacrifices made didn't change the mindset in the people of the time.
On a scale of 5 popcorn buckets, "Free State of Jones" tops off 4 buckets of tasty goodness. Though slow at times, the story keeps you dialed in and the acting by the entire cast is very strong. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 2 hours, 19 minutes. This movie was reviewed at Southpark 7 Theatres in Spencer.