It comes as a bit of a surprise that News of the World has been released with such little fanfare as the film not only stars one of Hollywood’s most highly-regarded leading men but is also directed by legendary filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Jason Bourne, Captain Phillips).
Here Hanks (Forrest Gump) plays retired Civil War soldier Captain Kidd. Instead of returning home to his wife after the war, Kidd decided to go out on the road travelling around reading the news for money in the many small towns that are trying to get back on their feet after the war. Sometimes Kidd’s news brings happiness and hope to people and at other times it brings sadness. Whatever the emotion it brings, Kidd is sure that he is doing a good deed.
His work is not without danger though as he travels the sometimes lawless back roads to get from town to town. Those dangers are pushed firmly into his mind when he comes across a destroyed wagon whose driver has been attacked and lynched. As he sifts through the remains of the wagon Kidd the scared and very shy Johanna (Helena Zengel – System Crasher), who despite being white does not speak English and instead speaks the language of the local Native Indian tribe.
As Kidd reads through the paperwork that accompanies her, he discovers that she was abducted by the tribe as a toddler and had been raised by them until being rescued by soldiers. With nobody else seemingly wanting to take up the task Kidd offers to take Johanna across the badlands so that she can live with her Aunt. However, the journey is made dangerous by those that call the area home.
News of the World is literally a throwback to the old school Westerns that many of us grew up watching. A generation ago Hanks would have been replaced with either Clint Eastwood or John Wayne and to his credit he does just as well as what any of those famous ‘cowboys’ would have done in the past. Hanks certainly never looks out of place in the film and instead he seems to relish the scenes that involve shootouts or stunts on wagons and of course he comes to the fore when he has to deliver dramatic moments, especially in stand-offs to the many that seem to want to stand in his way.
He is also well supported by young Helena Zengel, who has rightfully been awarded a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of the vulnerable Johanna. Zengel acts well beyond her years, she is never out-acted by her much more experienced co-star and she shows real skill as most of her acting comes down to her having to use body language and facial expressions to make her point considering the language barrier. She certainly announces herself as an actress with a rosy Hollywood future ahead of her.
Greengrass’ screenplay, which he co-wrote with Luke Davies (Lion) does at times feel like it should have been a little bit tighter. The film feels like it loses a little bit of its suspense and drama in the final act, which easily could have been fixed with a simple re-write. But for the most part the script does allow for a lot of suspense as puts the two main characters in peril a number of times, and to both Davies and Greengrass’s credit the film does touch on a number of topics including racism without feeling overly preachy.
As films like Let Him Go and The Marksman have recently shown, the modern day Western can be a film of beauty and that is certainly the case for News Of The World. The harshness of the Wild West is counteracted by some beautiful cinematography and a heart-warming tale. Yes once again Mr Hanks has delivered the goods.
News of the World is currently unclassified in Thailand but is to be released on Netflix on Feb 10.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus