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"MR. JONES"
(2020) (James Norton, Peter Sarsgaard) (Not Rated)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A foreign advisor turned freelance journalist tries to discover the source of Russia's increased spending during the Great Depression and before the onset of WWII.
PLOT:

As introduced by novelist George Orwell (JOSEPH MAWIE) who's writing his allegorical work "Animal Farm," we find ourselves in the year 1934 when Gareth Jones (JAMES NORTON) is a Welsh reporter working as the Foreign advisor for former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (KENNETH CRANHAM). Having just interviewed Adolf Hitler, Gareth tries to sound the alarm to his boss and others about Hitler but they blow off his worries and his advice that Britain must ally with Russia's Stalin or else.

Due to alleged budget cuts during the Great Depression, Gareth suddenly finds himself unemployed but decides to head to Russia as a freelance journalist in hopes of not only interviewing Stalin, but also discovering the source of the money the government is using for their recent military upgrades and other expansion. Hoping to meet his contact who reported he found something major in Ukraine related to that, Gareth learns from Walter Duranty (PETER SARSGAARD), the Pulitzer Prize-winning bureau chief for The New York Times, that the man was shot dead a few days earlier. With help from Duranty's assistant, Ada Brooks (VANESSA KIRBY), who's concerned about her friends back in Berlin, Gareth pretends he's still working for Lloyd George and heads to Russia and then sneaks off to Ukraine looking for answers.

But what he finds is famine and death among the poor in direct contrast to the rich officials he previously met who extolled the greatness of Stalin's brand of communism. As he tries to survive that and later is faced with a deadly ultimatum, he must decide whether to tell the truth about what he's seen and experienced.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Unlike those on competitive debate teams and others who like to argue simply because they're jerks, most people prefer to have others agree with whatever their opinion might be, even if it's wrong. And that's especially true of thin-skinned politicians or those who operate by an "it's my way or the highway" mindset.

And one way that such politicians and their loyal followers handle that is to label any reporting they don't like as "fake news." For those thinking this is a new phenomenon, it's not. While it might have a new nickname, political leaders have been making these claims for decades, something not lost on George Orwell when he penned the dystopian masterpiece "1984."

In that, he wrote about newspeak, doublespeak, and groupthink used by the totalitarian government to control the masses and make them fall in line with their ideology, all stemming from his observations of the Nazis and Soviets of the past controlling the minds of their people.

At the opening of the historical drama "Mr. Jones" we see Orwell busy at the typewriter, but it's not "1984" that he's working on. Instead, it's "Animal Farm," and while fans of that work might thus think the film is about the farmer of the same name in that work who gets ganged up on by his talking farm animals, the story is actually about a different Mr. Jones and an earlier form of dismissing the press.

The famous author's presence is just a framing (and "hammer the message home") device used by screenwriter Andrea Chalupa and director Agnieszka Holland to tell the tale of Gareth Jones (James Norton), a Foreign Affairs Adviser to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) who's just returned from having snagged a 1933 interview with none other than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. Disturbed by what he's learned, he warns Lloyd George and others that immediate action must be taken, including allying with Stalin's Russia.

His warnings are dismissed and soon he is as well. But wanting an interview with Stalin and needing to know where the Soviets have gotten their money to build up their military and other infrastructure -- during a worldwide depression -- he travels to Russia as a freelance journalist under somewhat forged pretenses. There, he meets The New York Times Bureau chief Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) who believes in what the Soviets are doing and is now part of their propaganda machine (which presumably allows him to throw hedonistic parties full of naked ladies and heroin).

Using his connections with him, his personal assistant, Ada (Vanessa Kirby), and others, Gareth manages to get himself into a situation where he manages to sneak off to Ukraine, a place his mother once taught English. While he gets a partial answer to his monetary questions, he uncovers something far more troubling, The Holodomor, a Soviet-designed famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.

That leads to evidence of the propaganda machine in play as related to that, as well as a fictionalized meeting with Orwell who then uses bastardized communism in his allegorical tale where all animals are equal, except those that are "more equal."

Overall, the film is done quite well, with strong performances by the players and Norton's protagonist being our surrogate view into such atrocities and the subsequently related cover-up. And taken in context with today's world of claiming "fake news" to stories that are obviously true (as happened with Jones reporting of The Holodomor), the offering comes off all the more important. And there's no debating that. "Mr. Jones" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 16, 2020 / Posted June 19, 2020


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