News of the World (2020)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass has been one of this century’s most consistent directors…even if he’s also been relatively inactive, only putting out 9 movies the past 20 years (3 of them Jason Bourne movies). The last few non-Matt Damon movies he’s released—“United 93,” “Captain Phillips,” and “22 July”—have been tense and naturalistic thrillers that hold your attention through much of their admittedly drawn-out run times. But “News of the World” is different. Greengrass teamed up with Tom Hanks again, but this movie doesn’t include any lengthy, real-time scenes like “Captain Phillips.” “News of the World” lacks the stressful sense of urgency that made Greengrass’s last movies so successful. I bet I’ll forget most of it by next year.
Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, a Civil War veteran who has taken a job as a traveling newsman. In his role, Kidd rides his horse from town to town carrying with him news from all parts of the country. He does what your Amazon Echo might do for you each morning. But back in the 1860s, people had to travel to gather in a place outside their home to hear all their news. (For those of you who have been stuck inside for nine months, you may have to look up words like “travel,” and “gather.”) On his way out of one rowdy Texas town, Kidd finds an orphan girl who had been kidnapped by a Native American tribe and now needs to be returned home to what family she has left. Kidd takes on the task, despite the risks.
The girl, played by Helena Zengel, knows no English and behaves erratically, making “News of the World” just a few hand-knives shy of “Logan,” another non-traditional Western about a grizzled man taking a wild young girl under his wing. Zengel is wonderful in her first Hollywood movie. And Tom Hanks, one of the best actors of our time, gives another fine performance (maybe worthy of an Oscar nomination, or at least close to it) in his first Western. One shootout scene in particular is also exquisitely choreographed (Hanks is too old for John Wick, but this was as close as he’ll get at his age). “News of the World” also gets points for things like costumes, music, and cinematography, all of which make watching it a pleasant enough experience. But the movie is light on moments to write home about. Moments of sincerity between Kidd and the child (a reference to “The Mandalorian,” because that’s another non-traditional Western about a man transporting a rambunctious kid) are wonderful, but they were too few to stop the otherwise slow and bleak “News of the World” from almost putting me to sleep. Even everyman Hanks can’t save every movie.