Generally favorable reviews - based on 20 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 19 out of 20
  2. Negative: 0 out of 20
  1. Reviewed by: G. Allen Johnson
    One of the year's most important documentaries, a real must-see.
  2. 91
    A riveting and impeccably researched documentary.
  3. 90
    I can't imagine anyone not being both horrified and fascinated by Stanley Nelson's Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple.
  4. This calm and thorough film has just the right attitude and tone to deal with a most incendiary story.
  5. 88
    Five people did escape, and they contribute their stories to the spellbinding documentary.
  6. 88
    Nelson's film eschews sensationalism, and knowing how the story ends in no way diminishes its visceral impact.
  7. Reviewed by: Aaron Hillis
    A conventional but genuinely heartrending exposé of the Indiana boy who grew to be a powerful religious cult leader, director Stanley Nelson's thoroughly researched doc is not a posthumous character assassination, which would be all too easy and unnecessary.
  8. 83
    While Jonestown lacks the power of revelation, it's a first-rate piece of journalism, as fascinating and thorough as any magazine article.
  9. Through interviews with Jonestown survivors and rare footage of Jones himself, this sober documentary presents an unforgettable historical portrait.
  10. 80
    An excellent documentary by MacArthur fellow Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till), offers no grand theories for the Jonestown phenomenon.
  11. 80
    Nelson has fashioned a compelling movie around an unfathomable mystery. To see Jones's face, eyes hidden behind trademark aviator shades, is to experience the last shock in Psycho. His is the blank stare of living death.
  12. As this powerful, minutely documented film reveals, the tragedy wasn’t caused by the failure of the Peoples Temple to realize its goals. In many ways, it was succeeding as a self-sufficient community.
  13. Meticulously researched documentary.
  14. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Harrowing and inexorable, the film recaptures the progressive insanity of Jim Jones and the hundreds of worshipers in his thrall, and it certainly gives you willies to last for days.
  15. Stanley Nelson's documentary shows how a religion becomes a cult, and how people are deceived by an ideal.
  16. Chilling doesn't begin to describe Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple...But the film never gets behind the chill.
  17. Reviewed by: Phil Hall
    Provides lethal evidence of what becomes of those who deposit their sincerity into the command of a religious lunatic.
  18. Reviewed by: Ronnie Scheib
    PBS-bound docu constitutes a revealing look at a poorly understood chapter in American history.
  19. It would be nice to report that director Stanley Nelson comes up with something new, some illumination, some revelation, some heretofore unglimpsed irony, but he doesn't.
  20. The Peoples Temple congregation was sizably African-American. But when it comes to how those followers turned into a zombie Kool-Aid death cult, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple leaves you with more questions than you went in with.

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