21 April 2003 | Cocomab
Compelling and tasteful
I read a few reviews of this TV movie which all said that the film dragged on for too long and that it was basically only sensationalistic entertainment. I agree that perhaps, the film goes on a bit too long (2h30 would have been enough...) but I certainly do not think it sensationalize the subject matter. Jim Jones' expansive power trip and slow degradation into mental illness, paranoia and drug abuse are never treated in a voyeuristic manner. The movie takes its time in showing how Jones recruited followers (Brenda Vaccaro's and Brad Dourif's character are stand-outs in that matter) but also in observing an uncanny shift in Jones' perception of reality. It is mind-boggling to see an egalitarian, left-wing and compassionnate preacher become such a destructive and cruel dictator. Perhaps the movie doesn't explore Jones' motivations enough, which can make the whole ordeal a bit superficial at times (may have to do with censorship as well...) But Powers Boothe's mesmerizing performance makes it all come true. I am not familiar with the details of the real Jim Jones' life, but Boothe sure makes the monster he plays believable and real. The movie features many strong scenes, among them the preaching messes of Jones, Jones's meeting with Father Divine (a remarquable James Earl Jones), Congressman Leo Ryan (Ned Beatty)'s visit to the Guyana camp and of course, the suicide scene. It is quite a gloomy spectable to watch and Boothe is quite commanding in those last moments. Madge Sinclair shines in this scene as one of the suddenly sceptic follower, and so do Veronica Cartwright (as Jones' wife) and Brad Dourif, especially when their time comes to drink the murderous potion. The relative calm of the end of this scene, the tasteful direction and the contrasting beauty of the natural surroundings all work in making those images quite impossible to erase from one's mind. A disturbing reflection on human nature and its weaknesses. Worth watching, if only to keep in mind one of the truly horrific events of the 20th century. Not to let it be repeated again. Like, ironically, the inscription in Jim Jones' camp: "Those who do not know the past are bound to repeat it".