REVIEW: Disjointed biopic 'Mr Jones' loses sight of subject matter
Courtesy of Samuel-Goldwyn Films
In the well intentioned but misguided thriller “Mr Jones” it would seem director Agniezka Holland struggles to capture the tone and essence of its subject matter. A messy and disjointed biopic, “Mr Jones” attempts to tell the true story of the somewhat unknown welsh journalist, Gareth Jones (James Norton) who in the mid-1930s broke the story of the famine outbreak in the Soviet Union.
Laughed off by his peers, Jones is the cannery in the coalmine when it comes to exposing Adolf Hitler. The earnest reporter is convinced the fuhrer poses a serious threat to the rest of the world, except nobody – not even former British Prime Minister David Llyod Geroge – believes him. Never mind that Jones has just had a sit-down interview with the dictator aboard his private plane and was so worried about what he heard; his first instinct was to crash the plane.
Jones knows something the rest of the world doesn’t and if he fails to expose the truth, countless lives could be lost. And so, he forges documents and heads to Moscow, where a colleague has been slaughtered and the country is seemingly on edge. He meets a hobbled Pulitzer prize winner (Peter Sarsgaard) who claims Stalin is the greatest thing for the Soviets in the history of the country, and links up with a beauty named Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby) and you wonder if Holland’s film might detour into a different genre all its own. Femme fatal anyone?
Ultimately, this is where “Mr Jones” starts to lose its mojo and sight of its focus. This Ada Brooke character often gets tossed in like an afterthought and you’d wish Holland would stick to the basics. When Jones, after smuggling himself onto a train heading straight into the dead zone of the Soviet Union, arrives to see the horror of dead women and children being round up on wheelbarrows, there’s only 35 minutes left in the film and things hastily rush to the finish line, like the editor had to compile whatever he could to keep things under two hours. It’s a clumsy investigative thriller that never truly finds the correct foot to land on.
That sequence is also the most effective in the film as “Mr Jones” works best when it transitions from secondary characters to the graphic and unmanageable depiction of the famine that killed hundreds of thousands innocent souls. It’s a haunting descent into what Hell looks like, effective enough to suggest cutting the added fluff and sticking to the roots might have served “Mr Jones” better.
It's no fault of Norton whose doing solid work conveying a journalist caught between the truth and moral ethics, and if Holland’s picture brings light to this story and the importance of a free press, then “Mr Jones” isn’t a total waste. But you wonder if a more effective and startling vision of the truth exists somewhere on the cutting room floor.
MR JONES will be available via digital on-demand platforms Friday June 19th.