News of the World movie poster
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News of the World
News of the World movie poster

News of the World Movie Review

Monster. Evil. Deviant. Tom Hanks has been called many things, but western action hero? That’s a new one. And yet here we are, in this weird, wild new frontier called 2020, and Hanks is just doing his thang, winning us over with a scruffy, gruff, and endearing turn as a traveling newsman/storyteller who sets out to protect a white girl who doesn’t speak a lick of English.

News of the World, which reunites the star with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, isn’t really, not entirely, an action movie. Hanks’ character, the elegantly named Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, doesn’t carry much of a weapon and makes his money reading several-days (weeks?)-old newspapers to people. He’s also old. 

And the movie is as much about ye’ ol’ cap-i-tain bonding with his young female companion (Helena Zengel) as it is about them evading child rapists and disgruntled cattle lords. 

But for a western where the main character isn’t some badass gunslinger, Greengrass (who also directed two of the best actions in existence, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) stages some impressively effective sequences that, alone, make News of the World worth it. The action isn’t explosive, but it isn’t meant to be; Greengrass builds suspense that aligns to the capability of his hero. Captain Kidd isn’t going to mow down 15 guys in a matter of seconds; every moment is a rough-and-tumble, grasping-for-options lurch, requiring survival instinct and inventiveness at every turn. There’s something refreshing about the groundedness of the action.

But again, to call News of the World is an action movie is a slight stretch. At the film’s core is a heartfelt bonding between Kidd and the young Johanna, and while they can barely understand each other, both Hanks and Zengel’s natural chemistry gives the story life. Hanks is excellent as always, and while I wouldn’t describe his performance as a particularly flashy one, he once again reminds us that he can take on just about any role. Twelve-year-old Zengel is impressive as well; her role isn’t an easy one, yet she conveys the presence of a seasoned actor. 

The overall story is a little limiting, feeling more like “challenge of the week” vignettes pieced together than a more robust, start-to-finish experience. News of the World works effectively at an entertainment level, but strains when it tries to be something more, which it clearly does in the third act. Greengrass attempts to lay on the emotion in the film’s final moments, but it comes off as the end to an arc we didn’t know we were watching, or asking for. It’s not bad; it’s simply unnecessary, and not particularly effective.

News of the World is an engaging, entertaining, and refreshingly different kind of western. While not perfect, when Greengrass sticks to his guns and avoids going for the heart, it serves as more than a worthwhile endeavor. It also gives Hanks a rare opportunity to play a hero and for him to redeem his soiled, sinister reputation. 2020 is truly a year of wonders.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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