Tuesday 19 January 2021

News of the World (Movie Review)

As I continue to play catch up with the films released over the weekend, the next one on my review list is News of the World, a western co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The Academy Award-nominated director once again teams up with Tom Hanks for the movie, following their previous collaboration in the brilliant Captain Phillips. And this time around, they swap the pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the rolling hills and valleys of the American frontier.

In News of the World, Tom Hank stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kid, a former confederate soldier who now travels from town to town reading the news for a living. Basically he does so for the benefit of those not learned enough to read the newspapers for themselves, or those whose lives have proven too busy to afford them the time during a typical work day. So in a way, you can think of him as the Wild West equivalent of a modern day newscaster.

During one of his trips, he comes across a young girl whose horse and carriage had been attacked. The girl is immediately reluctant to accept his help. This isn't helped by the fact that she didn't appear to speak a single word of English. He soon discovers that the girl was being transported to her last surviving relatives prior to the attack. But all attempts to leave the girl in the hands of relevant authorities prove futile, and now he is left with no choice other than to embark on a perilous journey across Texas in an attempt to reunite the young girl with her family.

Chances are that anyone planning to see the News of the World is doing so solely because of its bankable lead, so it should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks once again proves to be more than capable in the role. So the real breakout then was his co-star Helena Zengel, who plays Johanna Leonberger. She perfectly captures the spirit of a young feral child caught between two worlds, and the fact that she managed to convey such a broad spectrum of emotions with barely any spoken dialogue is worthy of praise. 

Also worthy of praise was the cinematography on display, which effectively captured both the beauty and horrors of the American frontier. This was no doubt helped by the film's director, Paul Greengrass, who has proven to have an eye for such details. There were plenty sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes, as well as tight closeups of the character's faces, whenever the action called for that. And the transitions between the two was always smooth and seamless.

With all that said, my one area of criticism was the movie's pacing. The movie takes a somewhat leisurely approach with the unraveling of its plot, and for large stretches of time, all we really get to go with are the aforementioned sweeping shots and landscapes. I understand that this is meant to help build a sense of atmosphere, which is especially useful in such a character-driven narrative. But I'm also concerned that this could be considered off-putting for some viewers.

News of the World is a western that might prove a little too familiar to fans of the genre. The comparisons with True Grit are inevitable, with both movies centering upon a road trip of sorts, wherein an older, seasoned gunslinger accompanies a young girl across the Old West on a singular mission. Except unlike that other movie, the characters in this one aren't driven by a thirst for revenge, but rather an opportunity to move on and heal from past traumas.


  1. I wondered about this one. I will be prepared for the slow pace.

    1. Cool. I hope you enjoy it even more than I did.

  2. Tom Hanks has kind of been playing it safe in recent years, so it was good to see him choose something interesting like this, something that feels familiar but also new for him (he’s stayed in fairly contemporary roles for most of his career, with exceptions mostly confined to the past fifty years or so). Look forward to seeing it eventually.

    1. True. Hope you enjoy it at least as much as I did.