Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Kerry Russell, Mahershala Ali
Director: Gary Ross
An interesting film, which Empire really didn’t rate this month, and that I really loved. This film tells the tale of a man and a place that held out against the unfairness of oppression.
It’s a little complicated to put it into a sentence or two, but here goes. A deserter from the Confederate Army, Newton Knight (McConaughey) was a man of strong beliefs. Coming home with the body of a nephew who died unnecessarily, he finds that the local militia are taxing the poorer members of his home county in Mississipi to the extent that they won’t survive the winter, and are able to do this because all the men are away at war.
He steps in to help, and falls foul of the corrupt officials, and takes to the swamps, joining up with some escaped slaves, whilst his wife leaves him with their son. Refusing to bow to pressure, Knight manages to rally the whole country to overthrow the oppression and corruption of the richer plantation owners, and he stands for freedom, robbing the rich. But it’s not all a Robin Hood tale, the war was one of race, and whilst there is much in the film to inspire, there is a great deal of tragedy and sadness too.
The film uses a flash forward to show a court case involving the grandson of Knight, which a some people felt was incongruous and show horned in, making the narrative confused, but I disagree. I feel that it showed how his actions echoed down and effected his family, and how long it takes, that racial prejudice should still be a problem after a war that was fought and won two generations ago.
Personally, I think it showed the inside of the Civil War in a way that was quite insightful. It managed to convey the pressures on the ordinary people who loved and died in it, as well as the way that class was an issue, and racial tensions had gradations, not all Southerners agreed with slavery. It showed the hardships that people who lived in the South suffered, and although not all of them were nice people, they’re not one dimensional bad guys either. And the black characters are not just victims who need white people to save them, actually, it feels rather the other way around. The characters of Rachel and Moses (Mbatha-Raw and Ali) really deserve special mention, because they’re wonderful, heart felt characters, but I only have so much room to write.
I really liked this film. I love seeing the underdog take on the big guy, and the amount that Knight and his friends manage to do is truly inspiring. It’s just sad that it didn’t “stick”, and that some of the fights he fought are still going on.
See it? Beautiful, yes see it. Especially for you history fans.