Jan 10, 2016

Trailing Off: "Free State of Jones" (2016)

Scene from Free State of Jones
Welcome to the weekly column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. Coming every Sunday (it's called Trailing Off for a reason), I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Gary Ross
Written By: Gary Ross
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell

- Preamble -

With the start of 2016 officially upon us, it's tough to think of any Trailing Off subject really being a potential favorite. In fact, we're in the middle of a dead season where mediocre throwaway movies are likely going to populate the theaters for awhile, or at least if Star Wars: The Force Awakens has anything to say about it. However, Trailing Off must go on, and thus it's an interesting time to find entries that are more than deserving of a reference in these columns. For the sake of necessity, I have decided to pick a film that at least sounds halfway decent by a director who I feel is also halfway decent. 
I am talking about Free State of Jones, which shows the return of Matthew McConaughey after what seems like a year off from the public eye (did he do anything between Interstellar and this?). Whatever the cause may be, he is back with a Civil War drama that looks to at least show that he's able to still do action films. It's an interesting time for the actor, especially as he continues to pick projects that are outside of his wheelhouse. I know very little about this film, so I am going in with almost no expectations. However, McConaughey's recent output is some of his best work, and I only hope that he continues to surprise as things go on. 
I am also hopeful of Gary Ross. This may be his most high profile gig since he helped The Hunger Games get off the ground in 2012. While I am a fan of that series, I do feel like the film hasn't held up as well as the subsequent sequels. I think that it was a little too rugged and unfocused to really be a great sign of what the franchise would become. It gets me worried that he is going to apply that to a Civil War drama, but maybe the story will be a little better. After all, Ross' other films (Pleasantville specifically) are really good and give me hope that even if he had one dud (which wasn't very bad at that) that he is able to bounce back and produce something that is as captivating as his best work. Though the issue then comes on if Civil War dramas are inherently interesting, considering that very few are made. We'll just have to see.

- Dissection -

If nothing else, I can honestly say that I don't know a lot about the Civil War. I cannot even attest to whether or not this is an accurate story. However, I will admit that this looks to be a compelling drama either way. For starters, the film has all of the trappings of a solid war drama in which things are shown at the start to be tumultuous and develop into something that looks more like personal affairs. If anything, I can totally buy McConaughey as the underdog who comes to save the day and makes a difference in American history. With rambunctious music, the whole thing plays out as an intriguing film about an era in American history that doesn't seem to get enough credit in cinema. Most people seem to be more regarded in World War II and, deservedly so, it's a far more interesting time in history for cinema.  
I will even say that it looks like it's going to be an interesting take from Ross. While the action of The Hunger Games was a little problematic, the direction had its moments. I do think that this will either make or break the film's central focus, which does seem to be about the war. Even if the drama takes focus for the back half of the trailer, I do think that there will at least be one or two scenes that take over the focus of the story and gives the film a central set piece where the emotional impact is centralized into. For the most part, I remain skeptical on if this will actually pan out to be as great as everything else.
Also, the trailer is surprisingly long for something that is meant to sell the audience something. It is borderline three minutes long, and that may be problematic in most films' cases. However, I do think that the film works on giving away enough of the plot to get the audience enticed. Maybe it could've been edited down to two, but the material in here highlights what looks to be a pretty solid "Epic" about the Civil War and about one point in the war that the filmmaker deems important. As a whole, the length isn't as problematic as small parts - which even then are more based on expectations of the filmmakers than the actual trailer itself. If anything, this gets me more excited for the film than what had initially been on display.

- One Sentence Sell -

Matthew McConaughey stars in a Civil War drama from the director of The Hunger Games in a drama that looks to be as intense as it is personal.

- Trove or Trash -

While not by much, I do think that the trailer does enough to make me curious to see what else Free State of Jones has to offer.

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