Movie: MR. JONES
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Jeanne: James Norton stars as Gareth Jones, a journalist from Wales, who discovers the truth of the Holodomor, the starvation of 7-10 million Ukrainians orchestrated by Joseph Stalin in 1932-33. MR. JONES is based on Jones’ efforts to uncover this horrific episode in the Soviet Union’s past, which they disavowed for many years.
In 1933, following an interview with Adolph Hitler, the first foreign journalist on a plane with him, Jones set his sights on a sit-down with Stalin. Using his connections with the former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham), Jones obtained permission to travel to the Soviet Union. Though his press visa is good for a week, he is informed upon his arrival at the swanky Metropole Hotel that he will only be staying two nights.
Realizing he must work fast, Jones meets the New York Times Pulitzer-prize winning bureau chief, Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard). He tells Gareth that Paul Kleb (Marcin Czarnik), Jones’ friend who had something “big” to tell him, has been murdered in a robbery attempt outside the Metropole. A colleague, Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), catches Jones’ eye and they meet again later that night at Duranty’s sex, drugs and booze-fueled party. He confides in Ada his desire to travel to the Ukraine to find out why Stalin suddenly has so much money to fund his five-year expansion.
On a train out of Moscow Jones manages to elude his chaperone and hop on another train heading to the Ukraine. What he finds is total desperation and starvation --- people dying in the streets, empty villages, bodies being carted off to be buried and children feeding themselves by eating their dead brother.
Upon his return to the UK, he is unable to convince anyone of the truth, until he meets William Randolph Hearst (Matthew Marsh), who publishes his stories. Unfortunately, Duranty, who has become a staunch supporter of Stalin and his ideas, discredits Jones’ stories using the power of the New York Times.
Written by first-time screenwriter Andrea Chalupa, whose research of this genocide is utterly convincing, especially in the able hands of director Agnieszka Holland --- these two women come together to tell this powerful story of Stalin’s manmade famine. MR. JONES begins a little slower with Jones’ frustration at the powers that be in Britain poopooing his warnings regarding Hitler and a second world war.
Once Jones is on the snow covered ground in desolate Ukraine, the film really takes off as a political thriller. Jones narrowly escapes the harsh landscape of Ukraine, riddled with starvation and death. And Norton is quite up to the challenge of carrying MR. JONES as this Welsh novice who takes his role as truth sayer very seriously. I have been a fan for a very long time and it’s rewarding to see him getting better chances.
Sarsgaard is particularly engrossing as the debauched Duranty who has let his Pulitzers and his thirst for journalistic power get the best of him. He has established quite a life for himself in the Soviet Union and he’s not about to let anything stand in his
way --- not even the death of millions of Ukrainian peasants. It’s a quietly effective, slimy performance.
Kirby, who was such a breakout as Princess Margaret in “The Crown”, is equally enthralling as Ada, the femme fatale journalist you’re not sure Jones should trust. She’s just so good ---
There is so much more to Jones’ story and we learn some crushing facts before the credits. He was a determined journalist with a penchant for the real news --- not the fake stuff. In our present climate, it’s reassuring to remember that there are people out there like him who are dedicated to exposing the lies and letting the truth be known. Holland has a winner here.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: An inspired performance by British actor James Norton highlights the latest film from 71-year-old Polish director Agnieszka Holland. Ms. Holland is a past Oscar nominee (EUROPE EUROPA,1990, ANGRY HARVEST,1985), and her nephew/composer Antoni Lazarkiewicz provides a moving musical score for MR. JONES.
In the early 1930s millions of Ukrainian peasants died of starvation as part of what many historians call the Holodomor, a.k.a. the Famine-Genocide in Ukraine. MR. JONES tells the true story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (Norton) who risked his life to witness for himself if rumors of widespread hunger were factual. Jones is relentless in his pursuit of the truth, ignoring the head-in-the-sand mentality of UK leaders. Norton’s performance carries the film, which is yet another reminder of man’s cruelty to his fellow man.
Holland’s movie gets off to a lethargic start but picks up steam once Jones begins his venture into the frigid and snowy countryside of the Ukraine. At one point he hops aboard a railroad stock car filled with silent peasants where he removes a piece of bread to eat. While envious eyes of the hungry folk stare at his indulgence, one man trades his heavy overcoat to Jones in exchange for a loaf of bread.
Cannibalism was rampant during this period as desperate people would virtually stop at nothing to survive. In one particularly gruesome scene, Jones comes upon a group of bedraggled orphans and is offered what he believes to be meat cooked over a fire --- only it’s not.
Peter Sarsgaard plays Walter Duranty, the Moscow Bureau Chief of the New York Times, and a leading propagandist for Stalin. Sarsgaard is well suited to this role --- he wears a perpetual sneer --- portraying the smarmy Duranty who insists there is no problem with starvation.
Working with him as his assistant is Ada Brooks, (Vanessa Kirby, Princess Margaret from “The Crown”), a New York Times reporter who becomes sympathetic to Jones’ cause. Kirby plays Ada as the enigmatic woman she was, who eventually stands up to Duranty with a simple stroke of her pen. A significant part of MR. JONES portrays author George Orwell (Joseph Mawle) creating his classic “Animal Farm”.
As director Holland says: "George Orwell’s famous novel, 'Animal Farm,' links everything together. It reveals the mechanisms of totalitarian falsehood, and the terror that can be fought only by resistance to deception and violence. Nobody wanted to shed light on Stalin’s atrocities, which Gareth exposed. Today, we don’t lack corruptible conformists and egoists; we lack Orwells and Joneses. That is why we should bring them back to life."
MR. JONES is written by first-time screenwriter and producer Andrea Chalupa. It is appropriately billed as a thriller, but it is also an important film along the lines of any number of movies dealing with sordid episodes in the history of mankind. Look for MR. JONES “On Demand” beginning July 3rd.
Opinion: See It Now!