Review by Sean Boelman
In an era of increasing mistrust in the media, it is important to have a reminder of how journalists can be heroes when they use their talents and voices in support of the greater good. Agnieszka Holland’s thriller Mr. Jones does a great job of delivering its political message, though not quite in a way that is consistently entertaining.
The film tells the story of a Welsh journalist in the early 1930s who discovers the famine in the U.S.S.R. while on an assignment, making the risky decision of breaking the news to the Western media much to the dismay of Soviet leadership. It’s an interesting ethical case study if only the script had been more focused on this discussion.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that it takes too long to get moving. It takes about an hour before the eponymous journalist even witnesses the famine, leaving too little time for the film to explore the issues that it promises to address. That first hour is instead spent depicting the deceptive practices of the Soviet regime which, while necessary for context, aren’t as pressing of a matter given the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Rather, what is most of interest here is the way in which it tackles the topic of government censorship of information. Direct government censorship still happens in countries around the world today, but even in countries with a supposedly free press, there is still a lot of manipulation. Just because there is no state-owned media doesn’t mean that there is no state influence.
The character development in the movie is somewhat weak. The film seems a bit too preoccupied with depicting the protagonist as a saint-like hero to give him more of a substantial backstory, but he’s sympathetic nevertheless. The supporting characters, on the other hand, are extremely underwritten, often serving as nothing more than guides for the protagonist in his quest.
James Norton gives an excellent performance in his leading role as the rough but compelling everyman rather than the handsome charmer than he usually plays. The supporting cast is also solid, with good turns from Peter Sarsgaard and Vanessa Kirby, but unfortunately, they are woefully underused.
The movie also looks quite good, doing an excellent job of periodizing the story, but it does pull some of its punches, particularly in relation to the depiction of the famine. The film misses a giant opportunity by not showing the horrors of the experiences of the Soviet people in more disturbing detail.
Mr. Jones is an all-around solid movie, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. More than anything else, it’s an effective statement, showing that the public still has reason to have faith in the press despite the fact that it’s not always evident.
Mr. Jones hits VOD on June 19.