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A Journalist Attempts To Expose Stalin’s Famine In “Mr. Jones”

There’s a lot going on in the historical drama Mr. Jones, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, too little of what happens is of limited interest, at least in the manner being depicted. What should be a troubling, urgent, and deeply upsetting tale instead comes off fairly rote and uninspiring. The material is there, it just never comes across in a particularly cinematic way. Additionally, the film does an incredibly frustrating thing in detailing some of its most interesting information during a title card at the end. That sealed the deal and prevented me from giving it even a mild recommendation. Now available On Demand, it seems like it’s destined to be quickly forgotten about.

The movie is a biographical/historical drama, taking place in the days before the second World War would begin. Ambitious journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) has traveled from the United Kingdom to Moscow, chasing a story. As the world bears witness not just to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power but also the propaganda machine of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, Jones is there to see just what Stalin might be hiding. Initially met with smiles but also resistance, he winds up receiving a tip that changes everything. This sets up Jones on a path that could expose not just an international conspiracy, but may well cost him, as well as his informant (Vanessa Kirby), their very lives. Of course, that doesn’t stop him, and Jones continues on his quest to figure out just what kind of a facade Stalin is putting forth to the world. Years later, this conspiracy would inspire George Orwell’s famous and history making book Animal Farm. Jones’ name might be lost to history, but the novel has stood the test of time. Agnieszka Holland directs a screenplay by Andrea Chalupa. Tomasz Naumiuk provides the cinematography, while Antoni Lazarkiewicz composes the score. Supporting players include Kenneth Cranham, Celyn Jones, Joseph Mawle, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Peter Sarsgaard, and more.

This particular story has a lot to offer, so it’s a shame that director Agnieszka Holland and scribe Andrea Chalupa can’t capture it on the screen. The acting is solid and the visuals are strong, but the pacing is pretty rough. Then, there’s the ending, which is almost an unforgivable offense. In wrapping up the plot and detailing what happened to Gareth Jones, Chalupa and Holland reveal a key piece of information that really needed to be depicted. Shown just as white text on a black screen, it just comes off as lazy. It’s not, but it has that effect, which the film is never able to recover from.

Mr. Jones either needed to be more of an epic, or narrow its scale to something more on the intimate side. Being caught in between here does the flick no favors. Actors like Vanessa Kirby, James Norton, and Peter Sarsgaard (in basically a cameo) do what they can, but the nature of the movie never quite allows them to take center stage. Holland wants this to be a period piece that’s also a timely tale, and while that concept rears its head from time to time, it never consistently hits home. For nearly two hours, you just wait for it to find its groove, but it never does.

Available now on VOD, Mr. Jones just isn’t able to keep its audience invested. As an On Demand option, you could certainly do worse, but you definitely can do better as well. There simply isn’t enough there to warrant your time. Your mileage may vary, but that’s where I came down on this one. Feel free to give it a shot, regardless, but it won’t be attached to a recommendation of mine. That’s just how it wound up this time…

Mr. Jones is out now.

(Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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