PLOT: A civil war veteran (Tom Hanks), who makes his living traveling from town to town reading and performing the news, comes upon a young girl (Helena Zengel) raised by a Kiowa tribe after the massacre of her parents. Left with no choice but to return her to her only living relatives, the two travel the American west, facing much danger along the way.
REVIEW: I love the dark side of Tom Hanks. Long considered Hollywood’s most beloved actor, to me he’s never more fascinating than in darker fare. In this vein, he follows in the footsteps of the two classic Hollywood actors he’s most often compared to – Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck. Both of these titans would have been right at home in Paul Greengrass’s masterful western, NEWS OF THE WORLD, which gives Hanks a tougher, grittier part to play while still emphasizing the traits audiences love most about him – namely his decency and sense of warmth. You can always rely on Tom to do the right thing – and he’s cast to type in what’s probably his best film since his last collaboration with Greengrass, Captain Phillips.
However, this is still much grittier, tougher fare than we’re used to from Hanks. The depiction of post-Civil War America packs a punch. We see Hanks’ Captain Kidd as he travels from town-to-town, delivering the news with a theatrical flair. His job is far from safe, as many town barons have their own news they want him to deliver, while news that doesn’t please the mob sometimes leads to him facing down the barrel of a gun. Still, he manages to keep the peace.
Along the way, he stumbles upon the lynched corpse of a black man, who it turns out was the caretaker of young Johanna (Helena Zengel), a ten-year-old girl raised by the Kiowa tribe after the massacre of her parents. Unable to speak English, no one wants to deliver the girl to her last remaining relatives, so Kidd, as expected from a hero played by Hanks, does the right thing and takes her on the road.
Hanks is superb as the burnt-out Kidd, a widower trying to outrun his grief. While warm and kind, Hanks always portrays Kidd as the type of man who does what it takes to navigate the violent world he travels through every day, with an even bigger target on his back now thanks to Johanna. Episodic, but in a pleasing way, we follow Kidd on his sometimes violent adventures, and it can’t be denied that it’s thrilling to see Hanks play a tougher than usual hero, engaging in gunplay with some hiss-worthy baddies (including The Climb breakout star Michael Angelo Covino).
One thing worth noting is how different News of the World is from anything Greengrass has directed before. Opting for an almost classic Hollywood approach, he eschews grainy, hand-held photography in favor of gorgeous compositions by Dariusz Wolski, with James Newton Howard delivering one of his best recent scores.
Greengrass also keeps the focus squarely on Hanks and his burgeoning friendship with young Johanna, with his chemistry with Zengel strong right off the bat. You believe his growing, fatherly affection for her. So pivotal is their relationship that the more violent climax of the film happens about two-thirds of the way into the film., with the final act slowing down to re-orient itself on Kidd and Johanna coming to terms with their respective fates. It’s a bold but extremely effective choice.
Again, like so many other movies this year, it’s a shame that News of the World is coming out in a compromised fashion, with its theatrical bow limited at best. Most will see it on VOD (or on Netflix – who own the international rights). It ranks among Hanks and Greengrass’s finest work and deserves to be celebrated. Hopefully – people check it out. News of the World is something else.