It's 1934 and Gareth Jones (James Norton), journalist and foreign adviser to British prime minister Lloyd George, is trying to convince a room full of stuffed shirts with fancy government titles that Adolf Hitler is looking to wage war in Europe, to build a thousand-year Reich. Jones should know. Somewhat famous for having interviewed Der Führer, Jones also heard as much from Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels' own mouth. The men in the room laugh at the sheer puerility of it. The Germans, after all, have their own problems. "Herr Hitler will soon learn that there is a great deal of difference between holding a rally and running a country."
Jones soon finds himself out of a job owing to budget cuts. It's the Depression, after all. But History will not let him go. Glued to a radio broadcast of Stalin crowing about the Soviet Unions achievements—"We did not have a tractor industry. Now we have one. We did not have an automobile industry. Now we have one. We did not have a tank industry. Now we have one"—Jones can't help but wonder where Stalin is getting all this money. After all, the ruble is worthless. "Meanwhile, the Soviets are having a spending spree."
Jones employs some double-talk to get a visa to go to Moscow, where he hopes to interview Josef Stalin, just as he did Hitler. Once there, Jones immediately seeks out Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), The New York Times' Man in Moscow, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the amazing strides the USSR has made in riding History to an egalitarian Utopia. Duranty informs Jones that his journalist friend, Paul Kleb, whom Jones had been hoping to hook up with, has been murdered in a robbery. Shaken but not stirred, Jones informs Duranty know that he is in Moscow for one reason: to interview Stalin and find out where he is getting the money to build on the scale that he is. "The numbers just don't add up."
"Grain is Stalin's gold," Duranty lets slip.
Jones is confirmed in his suspicions that Kleb was murdered after he meets up with a German journalist, Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), who knew Kleb. Brooks, while wary of Stalin, nevertheless sees the Soviet experiment as a great one, especially in relation to the havoc Hitler is wreaking in her homeland. It soon becomes clear to Jones that Ukraine is the story, that Ukraine is where Stalin is getting his "gold" and that Kleb found out and paid for this knowledge dearly.