World War II movies are Hollywood’s chance to tell something bold, but to also provide a history lesson that audiences might not have been aware of when they were in history class. There’s been a great list of World War II movies such as, Saving Private Ryan, Fury, Hacksaw Ridge or Dunkirk, ones that capture the brutal nature on the battlefield, but are also compelling with character and story. However, being behind the scenes of World War II is also a great way to expand people’s worldview of that time of history. Darkest Hour and Valkyrie are two prime examples of movies that are set during World War II, but whose focuses were more on the politics and letting audiences see what was behind those curtains while millions of people were dying from warfare. Mr. Jones, while set in the very early stages of World War II, is a wonderful capture the point of view of a journalist whose main primary goal was to uncover the truth of the Soviet Union during the early 1930s.
Our main story focuses on Gareth Jones (James Norton), a determined young journalist who has gained a lot of attention for his esteemed interview with the German politician and leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. Because of this huge accomplishment, he’s been allowed to travel over to Soviet Union in hopes that he can score an interview with Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union. Things kind of backfire once Mr. Jones discovers evidence of several horrible things that the Soviet Union is covering up, including Holodomor. All of this makes Mr. Jones a deeply moving and tragic tale of a one’s man journey to uncover the horrible and sadistic truth.
What Mr. Jones does so brilliantly, which was previously mentioned in the introduction, is that it provides a great history lesson. It’s very similar to what Steven Spielberg did with Schindler’s List. Granted, that’s a movie that’s not easy to watch over and over again, but what you get out of Schindler’s List is what the Holocaust actually felt like. You get the essence, the horrors, and the vibes of what the Holocaust came across as, almost like reading a textbook in history class. Director Agnieszka Holland is able to do something that feels beautifully reminiscent to this, but she’s able to do something different with a story centered around World War II, and that’s having it all told from the perspective of a journalist.
This journalist, Gareth Jones, is played superbly by James Norton. James Norton has had smaller roles in films like the recent Little Women, Rush, and the remake of Flatliners, but they either didn’t land critically or perform as well as it should have. Mr. Jones is by far his best performance that he’s ever given. Norton might be only 34 years old, so he’s still got years and years left to crank out great stuff, but his portrayal of Mr. Jones is so nuanced, understated, and is filled with so much heart, that the progression of his character gets you invested more and more to the point where the ending (no spoilers) leaves you heartbroken and disgusted. The idea to shift in a completely direction to show a journalist at the center of all this is really inspiring and refreshing, where in the past you’ve had the perspective either told from a solider or some other political figure.
The supporting team around James Norton was also a huge surprise. The talents of Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, and Kenneth Cranham provide great performances in their respective roles, but especially Kirby and Sarsgaard. Vanessa Kirby, who arguably gained more recognition in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, is easily one of the best parts of this movie. She brings a lot of emotional weight and gravitas to the narrative, all for sharing a great dynamic with the character of Mr. Jones. Peter Sarsgaard, however, is on a whole other level of greatness. Sarsgaard is pretty famously known for playing slimy and vile characters in films like the remake of The Magnificent Seven or even the colossal disaster Green Lantern; he’s always playing the self-abasing guy, and he exceeds it in Mr. Jones. He’s grotesque and uncomfortable, yet he also carries this odd sense of charm and alluring quality to his character.
Mr. Jones is one of those World War II movies that should be a recommendation for future history classes. It’ll open your eyes to some new and undiscovered territory that will shatter your heart and move you to tears. It also features powerful performances from James Norton and Vanessa Kirby, and a sickening, yet captivating performance from Peter Sarsgaard. Agnieszka Holland, at the helm of this film, tells a story of one man who’s just trying to do the right thing. We’ve seen movies before that feature that theme, but in the execution of Mr. Jones, it’s amazing to see.
Available on digital June 19th, 2020.
Available on VOD July 3rd, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.