Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980)

This was a TV movie made about the rise and fall of the cult leader Rev. Jim Jones, founder of the cult ‘The People’s Temple’.

I will always have reservations about TV movies because for the most part their poor acting and plotting usually lets them down. However, I would go as far to say that this wasn’t half bad. However, I’m wary of rating it too highly due to its problematic subject matter.

Tackling a narrative which culminates in death on a large scale will always be tricky. Plenty of documentaries have dealt with the disaster, but making any sort of narrative film whether it be television or film requires something more.

This film was well done for the most part. Whenever I watched any documentaries to do with the mass suicide, I never truly fathomed why or how so many people would follow someone like Jim Jones. However, the film does go to some extent to explain this. I was impressed by Powers Boothe (Sin City)’s portrayal of Jones himself. He comes across as a very charismatic person who uses people’s strong religious beliefs to manipulate them for his own ends. It also demonstrates that to begin with, Jones’s cult (with an emphasis on desegregation) had good intentions but it quickly went sour.

For a TV movie, this film was quite harrowing and the disorientation of the final moments was keenly put across.
Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is convincing too as the junkie-turned-doctor and his perspective of being saved from drugs by Jones goes part of the way to explain why people believed in and followed The People’s Temple because to them, he truly was a saviour.

This movie manages to avoid the typical TV movie cliches and with the use of the dialogue from the real suicide tape, it becomes all the more harrowing. As a viewer, you are set at a distance and are powerless to only watch as events unfold.

MY RATING: ***.5 / *****



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