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film review

In the determinedly intense and historically honest Civil War yarn Free State of Jones, Matthew McConaughey's guerrilla soldier-farmer shows someone how to shoot a gun, explaining the difference between half-cocked and full-cocked. Nobody does full-cock better than McConaughey. Here he plays Newt Knight, a controversial real-life figure who deserted the Confederate Army for principled reasons and became the inspirational rebel leader of a ragtag, mixed-race group of dissatisfied Mississippians. Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit), the saga lacks the magic odyssey of something like Cold Mountain and doesn't quite have the battle-happy thrill that the film's trailer promises. The chemistry between McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as his Creole common-law wife) is non-existent, their "romance" basically consisting of one conversation about biscuits. Instead of captivating us with swagger, McConaughey chooses to go grim and dogged. Director Ross does the same. (14A) –Brad Wheeler

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