Matthew McConaughey stars in this Civil War drama based on a true story. He's Newton Knight, a Confederate nurse, whose job is to carry the wounded off the battle field to tents where officers are treated before lower ranked men, no matter how severe their injuries. Upset by the way the soldiers are left to die, and also the unfair new law that exempts wealthy farmers that own a certain number of slaves from serving in the Army, Knight is ready to desert.
When a young relative of his is killed during his first battle, it gives Knight the push he was looking for to leave. He brings the boy's body back to his mother, and has to go into hiding because desertion was punishable by hanging. He makes a short visit to his wife (Keri Russell) and baby in Jones County, Mississippi and with the aid of Rachel (Gugu Mbatha Raw), a slave girl from a nearby estate, he hides out in a swamp with a group of runaway slaves.
Soon, other deserting soldiers join the small group in the swamp and Knight, a thoughtful and passionate man becomes their leader. He quotes bible verses and gives encouragement to the men. Local farmers (mostly women left to fend for themselves and children after their husbands went off to war) provide guns, ammo and food to the group.
Knight discovers that the Confederate army is taking the local farmers' livestock and crops, which would ultimately leave them to starve over the winter months. Knight, bearded, thin and calm, is a man who hates injustice and leads his group in armed retaliation against the soldiers. They attack and return to the swamp, where the army will not follow. They become so successful, that they create the Free State of Jones.
McConaughey is very good in the role of the determined, gritty, compassionate man. Also good is Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington, a slave and friend of Knight.
Director Gary Ross's action/drama delivers an interesting story with good performances. The pace is slow at times (2 hours 19 minutes running time) and a side story about one of Knight's descendants involved in a mixed racial marriage court case, seems unnecessary.