In 1870s America, former confederate Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (as played by Tom Hanks) journeys from town to town reading the news to those that might not know about it. Setting out for his next destination, he comes across Johanna, a young white girl who was taken by an Indian tribe many years ago. Taking it upon himself to deliver her back to her remaining family, it seems that Jefferson will discover as much about himself as he will the taciturn child under his wing.
… If you’re having misgivings about returning once more unto the prairie, then confidently put them to one side…
For their latest collaboration, actor Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass have traded the modern-day piracy of Captain Philips for what amounts to a more grounded drama in the newly formed united states of America. Then as now, there’s a lot of distrust and resentment on both sides and as such Paul Greengrass’s News of The World skillfully mirrors both the present with the movie’s western frontier past.
So, whilst not it doesn’t offer Hanks as deeply a submerged character as Sam Mendes’s The Road To Perdition, or his more affecting turn as Mr Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood , his Captain Jefferson Kidd still makes for a highly watchable performance. Carrying scars that only gradually ever get hinted at, he’s clearly the furthest thing from a pirate or a profiteer but instead an erudite man who understands that displaying an intellect can sometimes get you killed. So, when he comes across Helena Zengel’s Johanna, you will know that both her (and more importantly the movie) are in safe hands.
In fact, in choosing to navigate a country between winners and bitter losers, there’s much to admire here in the story of a stolen child who is unwanted by both sides. As Hanks and his charge leave the wet blue vistas of the first act for the more arid pastures of the second, a welcome, unspoken transference takes place. Tom Hanks the movie star, who, let’s face it, probably brought your interest to this piece, wisely steps back and lets Helena Zengel take centre stage in her first on-screen role. Looking almost like a miniature, windswept Mia Wozikowska, it really isn’t long before her expressionless face does all the talking. Having now seized your attention and determined to further pull on your heartstrings, it’s fair to say that much of News of The World‘s successes all belong to her performance alone.
With the genre of modern western having since built itself up from the likes of Dances With Wolves and Lonesome Dove into a typically more meaningful genre for inward examination, it’s fair to say that Paul Greengrass’s latest doesn’t disappoint. With his typically shaky, documentarian camera work seemingly put out to pasture, this is indeed a pleasant fiction that might well surprise you when its credits later remind you of who’s responsible.
So if you’re having misgivings about returning once more unto the prairie, then confidently put them to one side. Whilst News of The World might not be a modern classic to join the ranks of those westerns I’ve already mentioned, it is the arrival of a new star in Helena Zengel – and that’s always worth witnessing.