News of the World is a somewhat unfortunate title in the UK as you might assume it had something to do with the now-defunct Sunday tabloid of the same name.
Add in the fact that it’s directed by Paul Greengrass, the brilliant director behind the likes of Bloody Sunday, United 93 and three of the five Jason Bourne movies, and you might think it’ll be a real-life thriller about the infamous phone-hacking scandal involving said newspaper. (There is actually a TV drama coming out about that, though, from Des writer Luke Neal.)
News of the World couldn’t be further from that ide, as it actually marks acting legend Tom Hanks’s first Western movie in his storied career. Set five years after the end of the American Civil War, it stars Hanks as veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who now travels from town to town to tell the news to anyone with “ten cents to hear it”.
Kidd shares tales of devastating catastrophes, political dealings and gripping adventures from around the world, but finds himself in an adventure of his own when he comes across 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel) on the road. She was taken in by the Kiowa people and raised as one of their own, but was being taken back to her biological aunt and uncle when the soldier escorting her was killed.
The Civil War veteran reluctantly agrees to deliver Johanna where the law says she belongs. It’s a journey that will see them face numerous challenges across hundreds of miles of unforgiving wilderness, and a journey that could see both of them find somewhere to call home.
Anyone after Bourne-style thrills should know that’s not what Greengrass and Hanks – reuniting for the first time since Captain Phillips – are going for here. It’s a more traditional movie than we’ve come to expect from Greengrass, without a hint of frenetic hand-held camera moves in sight. It’s mostly a sedate road-trip Western that focuses on the growing bond between Kidd and Johanna.
That doesn’t mean News of the World is entirely without its thrills, and Greengrass leans into the tropes we expect from a Western. There’s a horribly tense 10-minute shootout in an unforgiving landscape, as well as a dramatic ‘you’re not welcome here’ sequence in a backwards outlaw town where Kidd stirs up a revolution.
Through it all, Kidd is the archetypal lone cowboy who’s not looking for trouble, but finds it anyway. Hanks couldn’t be more of a perfect fit for the weary everyman just trying to do the right thing. He’s supported well by Helena Zengel, who delivers an auspicious performance in her international debut, with the duo forming an affecting chemistry.
In truth, there’s not too much that really happens during News of the World and anyone not used to the more stately pacing of a Western might find proceedings as dry as the landscape Kidd finds himself in. However, the quality on display in front and behind the camera ensures that the movie isn’t a drag, with Greengrass peppering intense and well-staged action beats among the road-trip sequences.
Given the recent success of The Dig, News of the World is sure to be just as much of a hit on Netflix for anyone after something different from the streamer’s usual genre and rom-com fare.
Fans of Tom Hanks, especially, will be in their element and might even be calling for a sequel where he literally just reads the news. We’d watch it.
News of the World is available to watch now on Netflix.
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