I came across a bit of a gem on Netflix when I found Tom Hanks’ 2020 Western movie, News of the World. Old fashioned Westerns have never been my cup of tea, but trust me, you won’t regret diving into an unfamiliar genre with this masterpiece.
[Caution: minor spoilers ahead]
Hanks plays the lead character and reunites with Captain Phillips director, Paul Greengrass, in the film adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ book, News of the World. His timing, subtlety and ability to find every beat in what is actually a slow movie and a very simple tale. But don’t let that fool you – this movie isn’t just another reason to love and dote over Tom Hanks, because the entire ensemble gets it right in just about every way.
News of the World is a movie about Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran from the Confederate Army, who makes a living by reading newspapers to illiterate people – literally. He cuts a very lonely figure, traveling from town to town, but the performative element that he adds make you start to really like the character right from the start. Then, while on a journey to his next town, he finds an overturned wagon whose drivers has been murdered by bandits. While investigating, he encounters a young girl, who he later calls Johanna (Helena Zengel). Zengel plays the role of a German child that was orphaned and then raised by Native Americans. But she can’t speak English. So Hanks has to figure out how to get her home or to a place of safety, not yet knowing exactly what happened to her – which we slowly start to learn more about as the plot develops. Clearly traumatised, Zengel portrays her character in such an authentic way that every scene breaks your heart a little bit more than the last.
But it’s not just a tear-jerker. News of the World adds a bit of action and suspense when a couple of scumbag army veterans try to buy Johanna from Kidd and they have to run for the mountains. I was literally biting my nails. And there’s another scene that seemed to be perfectly fitting for the modern era where Hanks is forced to read a propaganda newspaper to an impoverished town run by an autocrat.
Greengrass’s charming western would form the ideal centrepiece for a festival that showcased directors working hard to be something other than what we expect them to be.Donald Clarke, Irish Times
And even beyond the acting, News of the World is finely calibrated with an almost unnoticed score from James Newton Howard. The cinematography and visually stunning Texan landscape make for an aesthetically striking film that certainly isn’t for everyone…. but I loved every moment.
Essential Millennial rating 4.5 out of 5 avocados