News of the World, 2021.
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Tom Astor, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Francis Murphy, Fred Hechinger, and Bill Camp.
A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.
Having spent the majority of his career capturing kinetic realism through a hyperactive lens, Bourne‘s boss and orchestrator of terror with the likes of United 93 and 22 July, Paul Greengrass, saddles up with his Captain Philips cohort Tom Hanks to take a contemplative plod through the old West with News of the World.
It’s the kind of old-fashioned camp-fire tale that you’ve heard a hundred times before; a long-in-the-tooth loner with a past confined to whispers and half-truths traversing the wagon trails and back roads of a stolen land, who’s suddenly caught up in something that irreparably changes his destiny.
In this instance there are probably slightly too many bends in the road, as Hanks’ Captain Kidd has a rather meaningless dalliance with a local saloon owner (the wonderful Elizabeth Marvel), or gets sidetracked by a plot thread in which he stands up to the threat of ‘Fake News’, which is a recurring theme that’s sometimes handled with sledgehammer subtlety, but welcome none-the-less. This moral heroism also affords him a new travelling companion (Fred Hechinger), but he’s disposed of so quickly that you wonder why he wasn’t confined to the editing suite floor.
It’s Kidd’s constant companion Johanna who provides the driving force and heart in News of the World. Once again, the story of two souls brought together without speaking the same language is something we’ve seen in everything from The Fifth Element to Dances with Wolves, so it’s up to the actors to elevate it. Hanks is doing the kind of everyman routine audiences have come to take for granted; avoiding confrontation, world-weary, but with a suggestion of some sadness or sin buried beneath the hat. The outstanding Helena Zengel is similarly low-key as his reluctant obligation. Initially fierce, potentially feral, she never fully thaws, retaining a singular passion for her indigenous culture, but her chemistry with Hanks is the foundation of the film, and pays off in spades during the surprisingly emotional finale.
If News of the World does feel a little too familiar in terms of the genre beats, then it’s undoubtedly a new viewfinder with which to watch a Paul Greengrass film, and boy does he frame the action beautifully. The vistas are stunning, with horizons that only the open expanse of frontier land can offer. It feels strange to say this about a director who reinvented the way action films were shot, but this feels like his most visually mature movie to date. Special mention must also be made of James Newton Howard’s lyrical score, which feels suitably epic.
Paul Greengrass steadies his camera and pulls hard on the reins with News of the World, his slow-burn flip-reverse of The Searchers, and in doing so kicks dust up along the same well-worn path trodden by some of the genre’s finest entries, among whose company this meditative journey wouldn’t feel out of place.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
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