As we speak Jaume Collet-Serra‘s The Shallows has a Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic ratings of 76% and 56%, respectively, while Gary Ross‘s The Free State of Jones has a 53% rating on Metacritic and a 33% on RT. Which seems slightly unfair. The Shallows is a total throwaway while Jones is at least trying to be serious and substantial. It’s not a bad film — it just isn’t radical or special enough.
I agree with the complaints about Jones that some critics have brought up. Too much of a white savior movie. Decently done (realistic milieu, nice battle scenes) but feels a bit rote. It places Matthew McConaughey on too high a pedestal with one too many noble speeches. A respectable TNT-level history drama.
I saw Jones last night. This morning I told a critic friend that “it didn’t offend me as much as I was expecting, given all the pans. My general view was ‘well, this isn’t great but it’s not exactly bad either.’ It felt to me like a mezzo-mezzo thing, a dutiful historical drama that doesn’t really tarnish cinema culture or create something odious that needs to be strongly argued against or suffocated.
“More often than not I was shrugging my shoulders. I was telling myself, ‘Well, at least it’s a lot better than Ross’s Hunger Games.'”
Critic friend: “I think that’s exactly right. It’s not offensive, or even egregiously bad. It’s just…kinda dull.”
“It’s going to die this weekend,” I added. “It’s too moderate. Too ‘okay but so whatty.’ We’re living in an era defined by 12 Years A Slave, Beasts of No Nation and The Birth of a Nation. If Jones had opened, say, 25 years ago with Mel Gibson in the lead, it might have been something.
Critic friend: “Totally agreed. It’s not delivering any news. Also, we really do need to start seeing some American movies about black people that take place sometime after 1872.”