By Sascha Krieger
Mr. Jones (Competition / Poland, United Kingdom, Ukraine / Director: Agnieszka Holland)
Agnieszka Holland’s new film tells the real-life story of Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist who made the famine in the Ukraine in then early 1930s public. Set first in sepia-tinted timber browns and later in the forbidding whiteness of the Ukrainian winter, the 140 minutes rush through the events like the train Jones travels to Ukraine in. The initially slow pace of the set-up transforms into a hectic rush with the final chapters added on as if time was running out and the script wasn’t finished. The viewer learns little of the man Jones, he remains as flat as all other characters, from the plain Asa Brooks (Vanessa Kirby) whose role Holland minimises to the boring villain that is Peter Sarsgaard’s Pulitzer Award winning Walter Duranty. While Jones appears as the hero persecuted and ridiculed by all sides, James Norton has little to do other than either to look shocked or passionately arguing his case. The film’s rhythm is off at all times, the plot patched together like an amateurish quilt. Holland makes up for it with fast-paced and hectic images shot with an hand-held camera, breathing down Norton’s neck when he encounters the deadly crisis and throws in double exposures and parallel images for dramatic effect. Adding an additional story frame of George Orwell writing Animal Farm, a work Jones‘ reports are said to have inspired, doesn’t help either. The result is a thriller that doesn’t thrill and a statement film that doesn’t make statements. In the end, this is a good old her story that forgot about adding a hero or a story.