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Mr. Jones

Movie review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
Mr. Jones Movie Poster Image
Drama about the 1930s Ukraine famine has distressing scenes.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 116 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Courage, perseverance, and doing the right thing. The movie highlights a devastating event in the Soviet Union's history that may inspire viewers to learn more about it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gareth Jones shows remarkable bravery and determination in not just sourcing information for his story, but also getting it told. He faces many dilemmas along the way but does the right thing, even when it involves breaking the rules. He doesn't drink, despite encouragement from peers. Other characters have their own agendas, which means ignoring or actively lying about the horrors occurring.

Violence

Many dead bodies are seen as a result of the famine. In one scene, a sledge is seen collecting dead bodies from the road -- when it encounters a crying baby, it too is placed on the sledge. Some soldiers chase a character while shooting their rifles. A starving family are forced to eat the flesh of their dead sibling. A fight breaks out over food -- some punching. Reference to a parent's suicide and a robbery and murder.

Sex

At a party, many characters are seen naked -- including brief full-frontal -- and in lingerie. Some kissing and provocative behavior.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Plenty of drinking and smoking. A character discusses feeling of using morphine before injecting the drug.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mr. Jones is a bleak drama about a serious famine in 1930s Soviet Union and has many upsetting scenes. Bodies are routinely seen, although no actual deaths occur on-screen. In one scene, two men are shown collecting the dead from the road. When they encounter a crying baby beside its dead parent, it too is placed with the bodies. Starving and desperate, three siblings cook and eat the flesh of their dead older brother. Characters also resort to eating bark from trees. In contrast to the famine, a decadent party in Moscow depicts drink and drugs -- a woman is seen injecting herself with morphine. Many of the guests are naked, with brief glimpses of both male and female full-frontal nudity. At the heart of the movie is Gareth Jones (James Norton), who shows tremendous courage and perseverance in making sure the truth of the famine comes out. There are some subtitles when characters talk in German, Russian, and Welsh.

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What's the story?

MR. JONES highlights the horrors of the Holodomor famine in 1930s Soviet Union. After Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) sneaks his way into the Ukraine, he discovers firsthand what the people have been enduring. But in breaking the story to the Western world, his determination and courage are put to the test.

Is it any good?

A slow yet powerful movie, this leaves a lasting effect that's not easy to shake off. Nor should it be, as it befits Jones' determination to make the world aware of the horrific events that occurred in the Ukraine during the 1930s. Much of the death occurs off-screen, though the remnants are there for all to see, often in deeply upsetting scenes. Yet Mr. Jones feels as though it only touches the surface of the Holodomor famine, with no chance to explore the lives of the victims. As such, perhaps a story of this magnitude warranted a longer format in the shape of a TV series. Something akin to another of the Ukraine's darkest moments, Chernobyl.

In terms of the performances, Peter Sarsgaard shines as the unsettling Walter Duranty, a man whose true motives are difficult to determine. Is he a true believer in Stalin or purely a man with ambitions of power? But the film belongs to Norton, who's in nearly every scene. His Welsh accent may come and go, but the balance between fragility and courageous is handled expertly. It's yet another noteworthy addition to a resume of an actor many have tipped to play the next James Bond. The movie is full of contrasts -- of haves and have nots -- that occasionally feel signposted. For example, after returning from the Soviet Union, Jones attends a lunch where he stares almost in disgust at the carving of some ham. But this is a story that, come the closing credits, will have you reaching for Wikipedia to learn more about Gareth Jones and the appalling events of Holodomor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the famine that occurs in Mr. Jones. Did you know about it already? Why are movies like this so important at highlighting such events? Did the fact that this actually happened make some of the scenes even more upsetting? If so, why?

  • Discuss the role of the media in the movie. Why were there two conflicting stories about what was happening in the Soviet Union? How might this mirror the news today?

  • Jones shows great courage and perseverance in making sure his story is told. Why are these such important character strengths? Can you give any examples of when you've needed to display these traits?

  • Talk about George Orwell's book Animal Farm and how that describes some of what occurs in Mr. Jones.

Movie details

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