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Playing a real-life outlaw hero, Matthew McConaughey is on charismatic, rabble-rousing form in this epic drama.

Based on a little-known episode from history, this is a riveting film set during the American Civil War. A principled deserter from the Confederate army, McConaughey’s Newton Knight leads an uprising of poor white farmers and runaway slaves from his hideout in the Mississippi swamps, outwitting his foes with fearless guerrilla cunning while advancing the cause of social reform.

Going from the height of the war to its turbulent aftermath, the movie undoubtedly sprawls, but McConaughey’s burning zeal holds our attention and the battle scenes have fierce immediacy.

Mahershala Ali as Knight’s escaped-slave ally and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the defiant house slave who becomes his wife provide outstanding support.