Tom Hanks has often been referred to as America’s dad and his latest film does nothing to discredit that reputation.
News of the World, a 2020 western from director Paul Greengrass, stars Hanks and Helena Zengel.
Westerns have a vast history in film, having over saturated the market for long enough to grow stale and fall out of favor. But News of the World is a well-done western.
Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran who travels from city to city to do large public readings of all the newspapers he collects along the way. This service, in some small way, helps to connect a war-torn union long before the days when television and the internet became the preferred ways to hear the news.
Kidd finds a child called Johanna, a little white girl dressed in American Indian garb, the lone survivor of a violent incursion along his winding road. As she speaks no English, the captain pieces together where she must be taken – to an aunt and uncle living hundreds of miles away on the unsettled American frontier. He reluctantly agrees to take her.
The setup is dead-simple. So simple that I was certain I would get bored with whatever filler must surely pad its 1-hour and 58-minute runtime. So I was pleasantly surprised when it proved to be extremely well-paced. News of the World balances its intimate moments between the captain and Johanna with exciting sequences, like a shootout that uses limited ammo and the slower nature of the era's firearms to produce the most intense gun fight I’ve seen from 2020 – and in a PG-13 movie, no less.
The cinematography in News of the World is wonderful, making beautiful use of the American frontier in which it’s set. While that could risk samey-ness, it manages to stay visually interesting throughout by moving in and out of cities, towns and different landscapes.
Hanks really is great in News of the World, but what more could ever be said about the acting ability of this film icon? More surprising is the performance by 12-year-old German actress who plays Johanna. It’s a demanding role for any actor, much more so a child actor. Yet Zengel absolutely nails it, giving the most memorable performance in the film.
I should caution that the PG-13 rating is well-earned. There is some violence and adult themes, which could be difficult to explain to children.
News of the World, unfortunately, has one of the most confusing release schedules of pandemic-era film. It was released simultaneously to theaters and digital rental, with the later costing $30. It’s also now available internationallyon Netflix, so the tech-savviest among us may be able to access it with VPN (virtual private network). When it will be available on a streaming service stateside is unknown, but the DVD and Blu-ray will become available March 23.
News of the World is a well-made western with a lot of heart. Fans of the genre, Hanks and even general audiences will appreciate their time with Captain Kidd and Johanna.
I give News of the World an A.