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TIFF 2020 Review: Mr Jones

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A former advisor to British Prime Minister Lloyd George uses journalist contacts in effort to uncover how Joseph Stalin has been able to prosper while the rest of the world is experiencing the Great Depression.

An argument brought forth by Gareth Jones (James Norton) about investigating how the Soviet Union has been able to prosper midst the worldwide economic collapse is discounted by the other advisors to British Prime Minister Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham); even after being laid off, he is undeterred especially when receiving a phone call from a journalist contact that is mysteriously disconnected.  Jones arrives in Moscow under false pretences, learns that his friend has been killed and while on a train escapes from his Soviet chaperone to discover that the grim answer lies in the Ukraine.

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In the world of politics, foreign policy is driven by economics even at the cost of human lives.  A historical example exposed by Gareth Jones is the Holodomor, a genocidal-famine that killed millions in the Ukraine in the early 1930s but no country was prepared to intervene and risk upsetting Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.  It is also believed that the exposé by Jones inspired George Orwell to write Animal Farm which serves as a distracting narrative framing device.  The editing is jarring in particular with the train travel montages that are derived more from not having enough budget to cover it properly rather than by stylistic design and the speed ramps to reveal an unsettled mind clash with the overall visual aesthetic.

Where Mr. Jones excels is in the casting with standouts being James Norton, Vanessa Kirby as star journalist and potential love interest Ada Brooks, and morally compromised Peter Sarsgaard as The New Times Moscow bureau chief Walter Duranty.  Filmmaker Agnieszka Holland is able to capture the bleakness and devastation of the starvation by surrounding Norton in a bleached white wintery environment which in turn contrasts with the dark candescent environment of Moscow.  One hopes that history will not repeat itself but as Orwell points out man would have to be removed from the equation.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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