Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Written by: Andrea Chalupa
Directed by: Agnieszka Holland
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 119
Date: 06/19/2020
IMDB

Mr. Jones (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Reporter Scarred

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (an Oscar nominee for Europa Europa and In Darkness), Mr. Jones comes from a true story so harrowing it apparently inspired George Orwell to write Animal Farm.

Available as a digital rental, Holland's film is a bit softer than that, and it appears to have been trimmed by some 20 minutes since its showing at the Berlin Film Festival, but it's still a fascinating and gripping story.

It's 1933, and young, intrepid Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton), fresh off his recent interviews with Hitler and Goebbels, is on the trail of his next big story.

He gets the idea to interview Stalin about the Soviet Union's apparently successful financial plan, which, on paper, doesn't really add up.

Using his connection to a former Prime Minister, he illicitly heads to Moscow, meets New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) and his Girl Friday Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), and is told that 1) everything is just peachy, but 2) he's not allowed to leave the city.

Undaunted, Jones hops a train to Ukraine. Holland presents this sequence drained of color, in snowy grays, as Jones discovers a horrifying famine, deliberately engineered by Stalin. He sees children boiling and eating tree bark, and far worse. He nearly dies himself.

When he returns, he finds yet another obstacle; no one will publish his story.

Mr. Jones lacks the intricate digging for details that drive most journalism movies (All the President's Men, Spotlight, The Post, etc.); it's painted in bigger strokes.

For some reason, the movie occasionally cuts to Orwell himself (played by Joseph Mawle) clacking away on his typewriter.

But Holland coaxes appealingly old-fashioned performances from all three leads; they may have stepped right out of an old movie. Norton wears his innocence and his hunger (both physical and spiritual) on his sleeve, and he's a ready-made movie hero.

Sarsgaard has one of his slimiest roles as the journalist who compromised professionalism for fame, lurching around on a cane and throwing drug-fueled orgies. And Kirby brings a sharp edge to a pretty typical second-banana female role.

But overall, Mr. Jones is a reminder that even in times of atrocity, good people are fighting the good fight.

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