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Free State Of Jones by Nicholas Britell (Review)

posted Jul 6, 2016, 8:27 AM by Kaya Savas

Free State Of Jones tells an interesting and important story that is part of American history, but does so in a pretty forgettable way. The film follows the story of Newton Night, who is a medic in the Confederate Army. He soon realizes he opposes everything the Confederacy stands for and bands together with a group of runaway slaves to fight and take Jones County to create a free state. The score is by composer Nicholas Britell who scored last year’s The Big Short as well as wrote and arranged the on-camera diegetic music that appeared in 12 Years A Slave. His work on 12 Years A Slave made him a great choice here since he probably had a great knowledge of American music during that time period. Unfortunately the score fails to do much of anything and isn’t given the chance to.

The score here runs a short 35-minutes, which shouldn’t signify anything negative as Hans Zimmer’s score for 12 Years A Slave was incredibly short as well. However here, the score doesn’t do much in terms of storytelling, character development, emotional arcs or even thrilling action. The music remains mostly dissonant and atmospheric pretty much all the way to track 7. Signs of life are had for a split second, then it’s back to the dreary and structureless music for the rest of the story. As a storytelling device, not much is being added to the film here. There is a lack of emotion, lack of character, lack or narrative progression and in the end it simply fails to grasp you as an audience. I’m trying to analyze what exactly the intent of the score is, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. Another great period film with sporadic scoring is The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, and I keep looking back at what other similar films did and why this score attempted to go completely unnoticed pretty much all the way through. The music seemed almost afraid of shaping melodies, it’s a bit perplexing to be honest. I can see the direction of going full on minimalist and dissonant to not make the movie melodramatic. But still, there is hardly an effect from the music here minus the use of some fiddles to make it sound like the south. Either way, whatever the intention was it seems to have failed at mustering any sort of narrative pull and falls flat before it even starts.

Free State Of Jones is a wholly misguided attempt at scoring a historical Civil War drama. The music wastes what little opportunity it has to go with atmospheric drones that fade in and out without much shape. The tracks kind of blur together save a for 1 or 2 cues that actually have melody in them. In those few tracks we get a glimpse of life and emotion that brings the story to life, and it's a shame that path was not taken for the entirety of this score. In the end the whole experience is just lackluster and detached.