PG Score: 7/10
News of the World was released in theaters on 12/25
News of the World paints a sincere portrait of an unlikely bond that is tested repeatedly by both physical threats and sheer circumstance. Writer/Director Paul Greengrass takes slow, yet mostly effective strides that help solidify a strong debut for Tom Hanks in the world of Westerns.
The film is an adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ novel of the same name and follows Civil War veteran and non-fiction storyteller, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) as he travels to various towns to read the news to large groups of people. Along the way, he discovers Johanna (Helena Zengel), a girl who was forcefully taken by the Kiowa people years prior and now has nowhere to go. He agrees to deliver her to the only family she has left, and together they begin a punishing journey through the merciless frontier.
For much of the two-hour runtime, the spotlight is on the relationship between Kidd and Johanna, where their connection is gradually built through a mixture of fight-or-flight encounters and brief exchanges that grow into profound interactions. The complicated dynamic is further impeded by a considerable language barrier. Despite her German heritage, Johanna speaks Kiowa due to spending her formative years in Native American captivity, while Kidd speaks English. The latter’s patience combined with the former’s observance allow for some level of communication and their understanding only increases as News of the World progresses. The scenes in which the two main characters are pushing past lingual obstacles to find common ground make for the film’s most genuine moments.
Solid Filmmaking Techniques
Since much of the plot revolves around fostering the delicate link between Kidd and Johanna, the pacing is naturally unhurried. The dramatic core elements are mainly reflected by understated segments that steadily work towards an emotional payoff, rather than aim for hard-hitting instances throughout. Greengrass wisely employs this approach to the film’s benefit as it maintains a consistent sense of authenticity. The only drawback of this calculated method is that it sometimes feels too slow, with the most notable drag occurring in the second act. The depleted momentum verges on complete stoppage and damages an otherwise impressive outing. Fortunately, it regains its footing heading into the climax and ends on a high note.
News of the World is light on action, but the production team makes the most out of what little there is. An extended gun battle showcases Greengrass’ expertise in creating tension and capitalizing on it at just the right instant for maximum effect. The set piece also emphasizes the excellent cinematography that is present throughout. Rocky terrain, lush wilderness, well-populated saloons, and unwelcoming checkpoints all compellingly capture the middle of the Reconstruction Era.
Greengrass and Hanks
Tom Hanks delivers a nuanced performance that only gets better as the tale unfolds. Kidd’s unwavering composure and subdued empathy are brilliantly portrayed by the Oscar-winning leading man. In her English language film debut, Zengel successfully conveys Johanna’s wild spirit and deep-rooted desire for a place to call home. Her on-screen chemistry with Hanks makes for a noteworthy pairing and is absolutely the movie’s high point. The second Greengrass-Hanks collaboration (the first was Captain Phillips) highlights the versatility of both individuals in their respective crafts. Regarding his fictional work, Greengrass typically takes on faster-paced projects that position action in the forefront and drama, while still present, in the backseat. In News of the World, the roles are reversed. The movie does contain a few sequences of gunplay, but the primary focus is on the slower-moving drama at the heart of the story.
As for Hanks, this marks his first appearance in a Western film, but his subtle performance makes it seem like his career has been chock-full of them. Hopefully, there are more to come.