The Netflix way of making films seems to be to get a half decent idea, a bankable star and hope for the best. Most of the time this strategy does not work – Enola Holmes, The Old Guard, Project Power, Spenser Confidential, I could go on – but this time it does. Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum) teamed up with the most likable of stars Tom Hanks for News of the World – an emotional, gritty, road trip of a western.
It is 1870 and Tom Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who travels from town and town telling folk the news – both grim and uplifting. During his travelling roadshow he comes across Johanna (Helena Zengel), a wild young girl who has been orphaned twice – her German family and her American Indian kidnappers both had untimely ends. Reluctantly Captain Kidd sees it upon himself to take Johanna home to her surviving relatives, escaping all manner of dangers along the way.
News of the World is a slow paced, emotional film with a simple premise. It is not a pistols at dawn western but one that focuses on characters, their history and their growing bond. It is a road trip movie both literally – across a wide open, expansive and beautifully shot America – and emotionally as Captain Kidd and Johanna grow as people. That said it is not just two hours of soul searching, there is action to be had – especially the nervy game of cat and mouse between the Captain, Johanna and three men with bad intentions toward her. As well as a tense bit in the small minded Erath County with its combative, self styled leader – with obvious parallels to fake news and Trump’s presidency.
Tom Hanks is as great as always, his charming, easy going and affable nature make him the cameras best friend. The star of the show is Helena Zengel, who imbues the wild Johanna with a sense of rage, confusion, and childlike wonder that happily steers well clear of the hysterical, feral animal act. The relationship between the two is the main attraction, as barriers fall and their relationship grows. The growing love between this surrogate dad and daughter is heartwarming to see, as is the story’s conclusion – even if it is very predictable.
Whilst it may be predictable and a bit slow, as a whole News of the World is an emotive, beautifully made and engaging Western with a delightful chemistry between the two main characters.