MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Western Drama/ Stars: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Covino, Fred Hechinger, Neil Sandilands, Thomas Francis Murphy, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Chukwudi Iwuji, Ray McKinnon, Bill Camp/Runtime: 118 minutes
I think it is safe to say that, out of anyone I either know of or know personally, the iconic actor/ “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks is perhaps the one person who, more than even myself, went through quite the journey both personally and professionally in the previous year (if that really was only one year; still being determined as of this writing). In fact I would even be willing to go a step further and say that the last year was probably one of the most turbulent flights the man has managed to go on (something that says quite a lot when taking into account his movies Sully and Cast Away). I mean it isn’t every day that we see one of our more celebrated performers go from nabbing a 6th Oscar nod for playing Mr Rogers almost straight on to being one of the first big names on the planet to be hit with a virus (whilst filming an Elvis movie in Australia no less) that has since managed to become a once-in-a-century pandemic. Of course, things then seemed to look up for Mr. Hanks as not only did he thankfully recover, but we then received word that his summer film, a war movie by the name of Greyhound, was going to be saved by Apple+ following large scale theater shut-downs leaving it adrift in quite the turbulent oceans, but then that soon got torpedoed due to the big reveal that the film sadly was, although good, not as good as it could have or (given the pedigree of talent involved) should have been either. Suffice it to say then that these are the kinds of highs and lows that either have the potential to make you need to see a chiropractor, really need a bottle of Tylenol handy for the headaches, or both. Thankfully though, I can say that at (if nothing else) the year 2020 did end on something that resembles in shape and form a positive for Hanks. That of course being the fact that, even though 2020 was downright insane in many respects, at least he can take heed of the fact that his latest collaboration with iconic film helmer Paul Greengrass known as News of the World is a sure fire winner. Make no mistake dear reader: it might not be what you’re thinking it is in many respects, but through a wonderful mix of a riveting and quite emotional story, truly amazing work in the cinematography department, and dependably solid work from Hanks in front and Greengrass behind the camera, this is one slice of cinematic pie that is worth hunting down and giving your time and, just as crucially, your attention to as well.
The plot is as follows: An adaptation of a similarly titled novel from an author by the name of Paulette Jiles, this slice of cinematic pie, incredibly the first toe that Tom Hanks has ever dipped into the Western genre of movie magic pond as it were (aside from his time playing or should I say voicing a certain cowboy doll), features the truly iconic thespian as a man by the name of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. Mr. Kidd, we quickly learn, is a former entry in the journal of those whose names were listed as serving in a little thing known as the Army of the Confederate States of America. At the time our film opens however, that bloody conflict that is the American Civil War has been concluded for about 5 years or so and Captain Kidd has found himself a new job that (thankfully) doesn’t require shooting anybody. Instead Kidd, recognizing that a lot of people are not in the loop when it comes to the various comings and goings, has been going from place to place and delivers for the audience who assembles on-stage updates about what is all going on in the country that they might not have heard about or in other words: the news of the world (huh wonder where I’ve heard that before). Suffice it to say that whilst it is a solitary life, it is a life that is also highly appreciated by those whose lives are touched by the impact it makes. It isn’t long though before things soon change for our hero when, whilst headed to the next town from Wichita Falls, he stumbles upon the immediate aftermath of a horrific raid that has left only a sole survivor in the form of a little girl by the name of Johanna. Yet while she doesn’t utter a word of English, this is quickly made understandable when our intrepid hero learns that, when she was younger, Johanna was kidnapped by the Kiowa and raised as one of their own. Not only that, but when her convoy was besieged she was also in the process of being taken back to her closest relatives in a locale by the name of Red Rock. Not wanting anything to do with this however, we soon see Kidd try to pass the buck of ensuring Johanna gets there by trying to leave her in the care of friends he has in the nearby vicinity. Yet when Johanna continues to attempt to get away from them, Kidd soon (albeit with great reluctance) agrees to take her on a risky and quite long odyssey to Red River in order to ensure that she is able to, at long last, get to live something that looks and feels like as normal of a life as possible.
Now when you are able to look at this slice of cinematic pie beyond the initial set up of the plot, it is worth pointing out that the narrative that this slice of cinematic pie is saddled with (pun intended) is one that is mostly driven onward by a series of skirmishes that our intrepid hero and his reluctant charge find themselves dealing with on their odyssey, and even though the narrative structure is fairly simplistic, it is hard to really criticize it when the results are this riveting. Indeed, as seen in this slice of cinematic pie, our dynamic pairing manages to come in contact with, no less than, men with a disturbing eye for Johanna, a group of determined thieves, horrific dust storms to name but a few obstacles. Yet more remarkable than that is how with every single encounter this slice of cinematic pie manages to find novel ways to resolve things. I mean just when you think it has run out of baskets to put its various eggs in, the movie manages to surprise in the best way possible and thus continue to stay riveting throughout. Indeed it is because of this, and given the thought process that seems to be running rampant through the land of movie magic at this time, that I must confess a degree of surprise that this narrative was never seen as having the potential to be a miniseries or limited series and it’s a little bit disheartening that it isn’t. An opinion I share because I honestly would have been just as (if not more) enthusiastic about being in the company of this dynamic character duo for 10 hours instead of just the couple of hours (including credits) that we are treated to. Not only because of how engaging their journey is to begin with, but also because of how engaging the two characters at the heart of this story are as people plain and simple.
Now I’m not gonna lie dear reader: it did make me chuckle a little bit when I remembered that this slice of cinematic pie is the second time where we have seen Hanks portray a man who also happens to be a captain under the helmsmanship of Paul Greengrass, the first taking the shape, form, and title of Captain Phillips from the long-gone year of 2013. Yet in all fairness I would also like to argue that there really isn’t much of a comparison to be had between the two features otherwise since their collaboration from last year is worthy enough to be looked at based primarily off of its own merits. That and even though their first slice of cinematic pie they collaborated on together was a riveting dramatic thriller with a dependably solid turn from Hanks (though at this point I have come to suspect no more and no less from the man) this one is an engaging and quite emotional odyssey that has a side of Hanks that we need now more than we (arguably) ever have before. This is because even though Kidd is someone who knows his way around a firearm due to combat experience, the best tool he has is his charm, wit, and sense of dignity and one of maybe 5 thespians in the industry who are always able to deliver just that is Hanks. Indeed Hanks’ inner warmth and affability are just as strong as they’ve ever been and it really is delightful to see that he is able to keep an audience captivated in a fictional film just as much as he has been able to do for real audiences since the beginning of his career. Yet worthy of an equal amount of praise is his compatriot behind the camera, film helmer Paul Greengrass for how his distinct helming style manages to blend phenomenally with this distinct material. Indeed when taking into account how Greengrass was, before making the leap over to motion pictures, both a journalist and someone who made some truly riveting documentaries, it isn’t that surprising to see a lot of the movies he has made tell us stories that seem ripped straight out of the headlines. What is surprising is seeing that his time at the helm of this slice of cinematic pie not only showcases a wonderful comprehension of the positives that this genre has going for it, but also a wonderfully adaptability as well. Indeed there is still quite a bit in regards to the utilization of a handheld camera, but the work done by the cinematography department is much more reigned in than, for example, what was seen in 2016’s Jason Bourne (a headache for another time incidentally which, whilst letting feel and look like a traditional entry in the Western genre, still allows it to show off Greengrass’ distinct helming flair from an aesthetic point of view as well.
All in all in the direct aftermath of the insanity-fueled and madness-driven year that the entire planet had to endure in the form of the year 2020, a year that incidentally saw this slice of cinematic pie’s iconic star becoming quite the odd poster man for all the novel chaos in the world around us, I am so thankful that we as movie audiences and lovers were able to get a slice of cinematic pie such as this to end last year on since not only is it a surprisingly optimistic slice of cinematic pie, but Hanks also manages (in a way that he and so few others can truly do) to operate as a potent surrogate parent of sorts who really tries to push for the validity of genuine information. Suffice it to say then that News of the World is a film that truly manages to operate on several different levels all at the same time. Indeed it’s as amusing as it is emotional and as riveting as much as it also proves to be quite affable as well. A mixture that incidentally manages to make for a wonderful blend of movie coffee to say nothing of a movie going experience that you most assuredly owe it to yourself to check out at least once. On a scale of 1-5 I give News of the World “2020” a solid 4 out of 5.