Westerns in this modern age of cinema are a dime a dozen. It’s a genre that at it’s peak, was the equivalent of superhero movies of today but we now only get a handful of low budget Westerns a year now. That means when you hear that Paul Greengrass, director of films like United 93 and Captain Phillips, is making a western starring Tom Hanks, you get excited. News of the World takes place in the post Civil War era with Tom Hanks as Captain Kyle Jefferson Kidd, an introduction we hear several times throughout the film and Kidd travels from town to town as he delivers the news.
The power of storytelling is prevalent and a main theme throughout the movie. He uses these stories to spread hope, to inspire change, and to try and make the world around him a better place. That’s why it isn’t surprising that when he comes across an orphaned child who believes she is a Native American, he decides it is up to him to return her home.
“She needs new memories.”
Hanks is such a perfect choice for this role as there may not be a more naturally empathetic actor out there. He is genuine, haunted by the demons of his past but not letting that effect those around him. He puts the girl and her safety first. It’s surprising that this is the first western Hanks has starred in (unless we are counting Woody) because he fits the mold so perfectly.
The young girl, played by German actress Helena Zengel, may have stolen the show though. It’s a subtle performance that demands so much for the audience. Several scenes where she must show exactly her thoughts and feelings without any dialogue. It’s a very similar dynamic and performance to that of Dafne Keen in 2017s Logan. With her own demons from her past holding her down as well, her and Kidd must learn to face them together or not at all.
“I’m here tonight to read the news from across this great world of ours.”
Greengrass also shows that he knows how to shoot a western. In a world where Greengrass is known for his shaky cam, he comes into this movie in a totally different mindset. He lets the camera sit at times and take in the beautiful western landscapes that we’ve become so familiar with over the years. A lot of this can be credited to long time Ridley Scott contributor, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. He shoots a beautiful western in News of the World.
That is where the film starts to muddy. There is potential for so many big themes. Themes that they seem to be setting up but end up doing nothing with. They have this young girl who believes she is Native American but they want to change her. Convert her to what is “right”. There is a news story about the first railroad going through Native American Reservations. Colonialism and this idea of changing these people is right there and then they do nothing with it. There was so many times that a deeper and more powerful film was on the cusp of coming out and it just didn’t hit.
“It’s not a rich man’s occupation.”
The tone of the film seemed all over the place. The film is almost episodic in nature when breaking it down but there is no overarching feeling it was going for. News of the World isn’t overly dramatic. It isn’t a funny tongue and cheek type movie. The film is not this super emotional think piece. It doesn’t take any of the messages it wants to and go all in on them.
News of the World is more methodical. It’s a current Hollywood western at times and a gorgeous slow burn at other times. It seems confused as to what it wants to be while simultaneously somehow still working overall as a film? Greengrass has shown over the years that he is a reliable and solid filmmaker and Tom Hanks fills his role perfectly. While it has it’s issues, News of the World is still worth a watch especially for anyone out there who just wants to get their western fix in.
Overall Score 3.5/5
News of the World is playing now in theaters.
The Shameless Plugs
Check out the Back Lot 605 Podcast Network on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and YouTube. Follow us on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Check out our movie friends Fat Dude Digs Flicks and Somewhat Random Movie Collection for some awesome reviews and movie insights! Check out every episode of the Back Lot 605 Podcast and Slash Lot 605!