Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Mare Winningham, Ray McKinnon, Elizabeth Marvel and Michael Angelo Covino
Run time: 1h 58min
It’s been almost 10 years since director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks made a film together. That was 2013’s Oscar-winning Captain Phillips. Reunited again, Hanks expands his repertoire of military men and indeed, Captains. In News of the World, adapted from the novel written by Paulette Jiles, Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of three wars now making a living as a travelling storyteller. Going from town to town, he regales the locals with news from the papers for 10 cents a time. Worth noting that this, perhaps remarkably, is Hanks’ first Western.
In Wichita Falls, Texas, he stumbles upon the abandoned Johanna (Helena Zengel), an orphan who’s seen more tragedy in her young life than most adults see in a life time, and takes her into his care. Raised by the Kiowa tribe, she doesn’t speak a word of English and is determined to find and return to her adoptive family. However, the law has other ideas and Kidd is tasked with returning the child to her biological aunt and uncle. As the pair embark upon a 400 mile trek across some of America’s most merciless and hostile terrain, it’s not long before various incidents, man-made and natural, threaten their safety and jeopardise their journey.
Even though five years have passed since the end of the Civil War, America is still very much divided. Racism is rife with black people targeted by mobs and war-heroes forgotten and left to fend for themselves. The media are accused of creating their own stories, or fake news if you please, and the people are growing tired of out of touch politicians. Sounds familiar, right?
Although there are many similarities to 21st century life in the not so United States of America, Greengrass thoroughly embraces the Western genre. Gone is the immersive, shaky-cam style of his Bourne films, replaced instead by sweeping drone shots highlighting some of America’s unforgiving, vast wilderness. However, the intensity he’s known for remains in many scenes, particularly during a cat and mouse chase that leads to a dramatic shoot-out.
The narrative is occasionally a little pedestrian, but it somehow remains intriguing and is always compelling. This is primarily due to the chemistry of the two leads and the wonderfully tender relationship that develops between them as they begin to learn from each other and realise they have more in common than they first thought. Hanks is as watchable as he always is. Capable of expressing so much effortlessly, this is yet another reminder of his star quality. Helena Zengel holds her own opposite him and could easily have exaggerated her performance, but it’s sensibly understated and quite mesmerising.
What might appear to be a long, dry and dusty road-trip at first glance is so much more than that. It’s a tale about searching for a place to belong, broadening horizons and seeking redemption by doing the right thing. A slow-burning, character driven Western with emotional clout, News of the World won’t be for everyone. But, it’s a fascinating watch with Tom Hanks once again proving why he’s the greatest actor of his generation.
News of the World will be hot off the press and arriving on Netflix from February 10th 2021.
Great review Ben.It seems to show that decades change but society and human nature doesn’t. Will look forward to it.
Thanks for reading it, Mary.