REEL Review – News of the World (2020)

Director: Paul Greengrass | 1h 58mins | Drama, Adventure, Western

On his way from town to town Newspaper reader, and Civil War Veteran, Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) comes across a young German girl who was kidnapped. With no one willing to help her, Kidd decides to travel across the South to find the girl’s family.

Sometimes when we analyse films we often praise it for its ability to stay with us, and more often than not, the best ones usually do. But there’s a certain charm to find in a film that exists purely in it’s runtime, giving us just what we need for two hours of our life. Paul Greengrass’ newest film does exactly this, and despite the director’s preference for the fast-paced shaky action News of the World benefits from a much more observant style that captures the vast American South. 

The early scenes see lead character Captain Kidd, played by Tom Hanks, as he ventures from town to town reading the news to people, and avoiding his home, until he comes across a young girl. She’s of German descent, but only speaks Koiwa because of her kidnapping years earlier, so Kidd takes it upon himself to return her to German family members. What follows is a pretty by the numbers adventure, one that sees two souls trying to navigate their journey while coming to terms with their eventual destination. The themes are played out in basic fashion, but in doing so it allows each scene to be one of patience and solid craft. Greengrass knows just how to capture every new character and destination the two characters find themselves at, and it makes for such a consistent viewing experience. 

After all, we rarely watch Westerns that are shot in zippy high-octane fashion. Every time Kidd and Johanna (performed wonderfully by Helena Zengel) come across a new place or new obstacle, Greengrass creates a canvas in which to splatter quality entertainment mixed with a little contemporary awareness. In a time of such disastrous American politics, most films have attempted a nudge at commentary no matter the genre or style, and News of the World finds little pockets throughout to do so. Whether it be someone screaming “FAKE NEWS!” at the top of their voice or Kidd riling up a small town leader as he reads an honest news story, the film is always aware but never tries anything drastic. 

Every emotion, reflective look and cautious stare is so wonderfully subtle, it’s a reminder of why Hanks has stayed among the Hollywood heavyweights for so long. 

Once again teaming up with Greengrass is Tom Hanks, who previously joined the director on Captain Phillips (2013), a star that people often accuse of playing himself a little too much in recent years. But the truth is Hanks can pretty much make anything entertaining, there is a reason he’s so revered and beloved by many, and he reminds us here of just how good he can be. Kidd is a character with inner anguish (like most great Western protagonists) but who isn’t afraid of being the hero this young girl needs. Every emotion, reflective look and cautious stare is so wonderfully subtle, it’s a reminder of why Hanks has stayed among the Hollywood heavyweights for so long. 

For all it’s praise in handling it’s themes effectively, the film does often have moments that drag out the final product. While there’s no mistaking this film’s vastness and beauty of backdrop very often it’s the front-and-centre objects that suffer. Towns are sometimes CGI’d unnecessarily and some of action, despite Greengrass’ wonderful history for it, suffer in the midst of technological fallbacks. Something as simple as a boulder is slightly too computerised. While these problems are fleeting, they are problems none the less – and chances are you’ll manage to pick up on a few more as you experience it for yourself. 

While the simplicity of the film stops it from being great, there is a certain charm to the basic nature this film has. You could easily put this film on and forget all your worries for the next two hours, and it’s rare we see films like that have such a subtle craft to them also. You’ll gladly be dragged into each scenario the film offers in it’s episodic structure, whether that be for the entertainment on show or for Tom Hanks once again proving his stature. But, the film struggles to break-free from it’s basic level charm, unable to shake the small problem-filled moments that often bring the end product down.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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