With a now 40 plus year career, it should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks is not only an immensely talented performer but consistently reliable. Indeed even if a particular film is not all that memorable or extraordinary in any way, Hanks’ presence will usually be enough to save it. Such is the case with News of the World, a mostly forgettable (yet beautifully shot) American frontier story that manages to move along almost completely on the shoulders of its superb star, Tom Hanks.
Set five years after the American Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), a former Confederate soldier, travels across the country reading newspapers to the inhabitants of local towns for 10 cents a person, effectively sharing “the news of the world.” However, during one trip, he encounters a young girl in the wilderness who was taken from her German immigrant family and raised by the Kiowa indigenous peoples. Thus the journey to bring her home begins, and the reluctant Kidd and child must learn to face more than just a language barrier.
Based on the 2016 novel of the same, News of the World sees Hanks reuniting with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass. Known for his films’ gripping realism (including the aforementioned Captain Phillips and United 93), which make his movies seem almost like documentaries, Greengrass has undoubtedly made another motion picture that excels in realism.
Together with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, this film’s look is superb, incorporating both wide and majestic shots of the Great Plains and close and intimate encounters with the characters. Everything from costume and production design is commendable. While Greengrass retains that visual element from his previous films, it is the story within News Of The World that lacks anything gripping.
The story has the blueprints for something intriguing but hampered by a slow, lulling pace. It never really engages the audience with the protagonists; little backstory is given to Kidd, and the details that are given only add to a vague portrait of him as a hero. As for the girl, Johanna (a respectable Helena Zengel), even less is revealed. While the point may be made that the character is meant to be an enigma, there should still be something compelling about her, instead of coming off as just a two-dimensional personification. It is not Zengel’s and Hanks’ fault, but rather the screenplay, as co-written by Greengrass and Luke Davies.
Besides a few scenes depicting an armed shootout, Kidd and Johanna’s journey is never stirring or particularly moving, despite the clear chemistry between the actors. While a few lighthearted moments showcasing the language barrier are charming, this pair’s story is just not emotionally investing. There are some laughs and a few touching instances, but on the whole, it is not a particularly memorable Western, except for its visual appeal.
Thus we return to Tom Hanks, who, although it does not have much to do with Captain Kidd, still creates a very likeable and pleasing persona, even despite the vagueness. So effectively has Hanks become the everyman (and everything in between) that even if screenplays do not flesh out his roles, he embodies them naturally. So while the story and characters of News of the World are not the finest examples of cinematic storytelling, Hanks’ presence preserves the film’s appeal and will likely be the main reason many audiences will want to check it out.
In the end, News of the World is a fine film, but not a great one; based on the strength of some of his previous projects, Paul Greengrass has still managed to helm a movie that looks great, with a wonderful eye for detail, but that disappointingly falls a little flat in the story department. It is clear a compelling narrative is somewhere to be found. It just never fully exhibits itself. But the comforting image of Tom Hanks in tandem with the delightful cinematography saves the film and still makes it an enjoyable outing, though likely not one that warrants repeat viewings.
Review: News Of The World
A compelling narrative is somewhere to be found in News Of The World It just never fully exhibits itself. But the comforting image of Tom Hanks in tandem with the delightful cinematography saves the film and still makes it an enjoyable outing.