Tom Hanks is America’s favorite delightful uncle. And we know this fact wouldn’t be disputed by many. It’s an easy guess that most of the movies the actor has given his name to are either good or have issues that aren’t related to his characteristically solid performances. Thinking back on his long career, while Hanks isn’t afraid of a heavy period piece, seeing him in a western feels rare. So, just what is News of the World? Here’s everything you need to know.
News of the World follows Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a man who works essentially as a newsman in the post-Civil War south. One day, he stumbles upon Johanna (Helena Zengel) in the wilderness on her own. He soon learns the local Kiowa tribe took the girl as one of their own after attacking her family’s homestead. With little family and a local government taxed and stretched to the hilt after the war, Kidd has no choice but to return Johanna to her family on his own. Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel and Michael Angelo Covino feature in the movie. Paul Greengrass directs from a script he co-wrote with Luke Davies.
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Jumping into the movie, it was difficult to quite know what to expect. Director Paul Greengrass established himself as a Hollywood mainstay over the last twenty years thanks to his mastery of the action genre. Audiences are perhaps most familiar with the director’s on-going work in the “Jason Bourne” cinematic franchise. Could Greengrass’ unmistakable style fold seamlessly into the western genre? In fact, News of the World shows a brand new side to the legendary director. Sure, there is plenty of action in the western drama, but Greengrass brings a far less frenetic story to the screen. The focus here are these two characters and the bond they share thanks to their shared sense of trauma.
In fact, it is in the depiction of the relationship between Kidd and Johanna where News of the World is at its best. This is where Hanks truly cements the intricacies of this man. Tom Hanks is obviously not John Wayne or Burt Lancaster, two men often associated with the western genre. Hanks wouldn’t be believable in a standard “western” role. Instead, he taps into Kidd as a man who lost his chance at normalcy. He certainly could have had a wife and children. However, the Civil War got in the way. At the same time, Zengel brings Johanna to life as a young girl who similarly had her chance at a normal life taken away from her as well.
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Meanwhile, Helena Zengel is the MVP of not only the movie, but her performance is one of the unsung gems of the 2020 movie season. The young actress is making her Hollywood debut in this movie but has been busy cutting her teeth– and establishing her talent– on-screen in her native Germany. Zengel brings a dynamic and powerful screen presence, conveying every single vivid emotion even while speaking un-subtitled German or what is scripted as the Kiowa language. It’s clear from her work that Zengel is a formidable talent even at this early stage in her career. Keep an eye out for this young performer over the next few years.
Finally, News of the World presents a new and unique image of the Wild West. It’s beautifully shot by Greengrass, who seems to be having an absolute blast working with the scenic landscapes and the elegant candlelit shots. However, while the story ties Kidd and Johanna together in their shared emotions, the western setting is equally defined by the trauma of the Civil War, which is almost a character in the picture. Even though the story is set in the years following the conflict, it can be felt with striking clarity in almost every frame, whether it be on the characters, the local politics or the townspeople.
News of the World has proved to be a slightly under-the-radar film release this Christmas. However, if you have an opportunity to get to a theater in your area, make sure you check out this stirring western drama. Tom Hanks continues to function at the top of his powers, and his work with young actress Helena Zengel results in some truly beautiful cinematic moments. Definitely add this one to your lists.
News of the World hits theaters on December 25th.
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