In the picture

March 7, 2021

Western drama News of the World is elevated by its cast but let down by its predictability.

News of the World  ☆☆☆

Staring: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel

Direction: Paul Greengrass

Tagline: Find where you belong

Paul Greengrass takes us on a Western road trip in his latest film, News of the World, a touching but predictable drama that benefits massively from a charming performance by the always wonderful Tom Hanks.

Set in the 1870s, the film tells the tale of Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) who makes a living as a newsreader, relaying both local and foreign tales to his audiences while going from town to town. On one such journey, he comes across a young orphan, Johanna (Helena Zengel). Raised by a Native American tribe, the 10-year-old finds herself lost and alone after encountering a tragedy while being taken to her biological relatives.

After all other attempts to have her safely returned to her family fail, a reluctant Kidd eventually decides to take her to the intended destination himself.

Their voyage unfolds pretty much how you’d expect. Obstacles are encountered and promptly dealt with. Emotional truths are uncovered. Bonds are formed. The film is warm at times, poignant at others, but its trajectory is always very, very obvious. This isn’t original, inventive storytelling. It’s all quite familiar and straightforward.

Luckily, the vehicle is in the hands of a very talented lead. Hanks makes it impossible not to be invested in the tale of Kidd and his unlikely charge, who is portrayed with conviction by young Zengel. The two make a pairing worth rooting for, and therein lies the movie’s main strength.

Given how weak the story is, Greengrass does a fairly decent job ensuring that the proceedings remain thoroughly watchable. News of the World is visually interesting, its setting is always intriguing, and its leisurely pace gives you the chance to ponder the tale’s messages and care for its characters.

Despite Greengrass’s efforts though, the film ultimately takes you on a predictable journey down a well-worn path. It’s not the most powerful Western you’ll ever see; despite its dark themes and occasional violence, the project lacks the grit and rawness that you’d expect from the genre. But the movie does have its merits. Several of its elements – the cast, the characters, the backdrop, James Newton Howard’s score – are excellent. Others, like the story itself, are unexceptional.

In the end we are left with a film that is worth a watch but never quite suspenseful or unique or bold enough to leave much of a lasting impression.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture