There are very few actors and actresses working today that when their name is brought up to be attached to a project, you just know the performance will always be solid no matter how good or bad the film turns out. That’s essentially how the longevity of person’s career is determined. That much can be said about literally any single person but regarding the film industry, performances are scrutinized more often. The year 2020, besides being in a global disaster was good to some more than others. For Americas dad, Tom Hanks, putting out two solid performances made life a little bit easier.
News of the World – based on the novel of the same name by author Paulette Jiles is an old-fashioned western adventure road trip that follows Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) (sounds like a tongue twister if repeated more than once) five years after the end of the civil war as he travels from town to town in the heart of Texas reading the news to those who don’t have the time. Kidd comes across an overturned wagon on his departure to the next town discovering Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) is all alone needing to be escorted to her closest living relatives since her parents are no longer around.
Conversation is difficult for Kidd and Johanna since she doesn’t speak an ounce of English but the two find the way to communicate effectively short of learning a few words of the others language. Kidd teaches Johanna English albeit more broken than he hoped for and Johanna teaches her native language. Their unspoken, unorthodox way of communicating comes in handy in the few action scenes that are weaved into the narrative. When Kidd and Johanna encounter three men who attempt to take her from Kidd, the bond of a father and daughter is the result – something that can’t be broken or bought.
“First Texas Infantry, Northern Virginia. Lot of good it did us. Poor men fighting a rich man’s war. Left us lying here in the gutter. Way I see it, we fought. But ain’t no piece of this ours.”
It’s the strength of the two performances that make the connection between Jefferson and Johanna the foundation for the story. Hanks, as always brings a sense of stoicism and composure to his characters. It’s just enough of a performance that he finds the sweet spot without over acting. It’s been that way with his past few roles in Greyhound and Captain Phillips. Even in the chaos everything remains calm as if he’s faced these challenges in real life. He also has the ability to makes those around him better. He brings out the best in his young co-star and in turn she brings out the best in him.
Co-writer and director Paul Greengrass (reunited with Hanks) transports you to the time period that makes anyone feel like they are actually in the old west. Everything from the set design giving off the small-town vibe to the costumes have the vintage appeal to them. The landscapes are something to behold in the way Greengrass captures the terrain. Camera work alone from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski brings the terrain to life as if it was a living breathing character.
News of the World is more narrative than action. The minimal action that we see is crafted beautifully with care that pushes the story forward that keeps the journey going. Paul Greengrass uses the tension built up between Kidd and Almay (Michael Covino) to his advantage that ends with a satisfactory action sequence. The remaining is a slow and steady burn of traveling from town to town continuing their road trip. Things don’t always go smoothly especially when Kidd and Johanna come across a group of militia who look to eradicate outsiders from their land. When Kidd refuses to read the news given to him, violence breaks out leaving Johanna to save Kidd once again (the first time was putting the coins in the shells).
“No. To move forward, you must remember first.”
News of the World is a journey first and foremost, the focus is on the story and where the narrative takes the characters. The plot isn’t the strongest and actually rather simple but it’s the journey that matters that is told successfully. Not only is it a time period adventure but it’s a character study of the responsibility of a man who is entering the next chapter of his life. With the loss of his wife, Kidd’s only real connection is to Johanna. To see them part ways is difficult because of the relationship built between them.
News of the World works best with its two performances from its lead actor and actress. Their chemistry together is built instantaneously becoming the foundation for which this films narrative is built on. The slow and steady pacing mixed with skillfully utilized action sequences keep your attention grabbed from start to finish. Beautiful landscapes, dialogue, costumes and set design are able to transport you into the time period without much effort. If I were to rate News of the World, I’d rate it a 4 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen News of the World and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
News of the World is directed by Paul Greengrass is Rated PG-13 and has a 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. News of the World was released on December 25, 2020 in a limited capacity and on streaming on January 15, 2021 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 58 minutes. News of the World can be rented by online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, Google and Vudu.