News of the World review – lacking true grit trumped up

December 25, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews
2.5

Summary

News of the World, while mildly entertaining, needed a bit more grit and less preaching.

2.5

Summary

News of the World, while mildly entertaining, needed a bit more grit and less preaching.

Making a post-Civil War Western is no easy task, and those that are set in West Texas are damn near impossible. There haven’t been many since Clint Eastwood’s relentless Unforgiven, which balances Western realism and mainstream storytelling. For every Bone Tomahawk, you’ll have a dozen films that range from Ron Howard’s The Missing, which was praised for its cultural sensitivity but turned the audiences away with its ultra-tough exterior, and cartoonish playboys pretending to be cowboys, like Colin Farrell in American Outlaws. Tom Hanks’ latest collaboration with Paul Greengrass, News of the World, falls somewhere in between that, needing a bit more grit and a lot less modern-day preaching.

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Mike Kidd, who travels around to read the news for money in towns all over Texas. The Civil War ended five years prior and he hasn’t been home in years. After leaving his latest spot, he comes across a 10-year-old blonde girl (played by Helena Zengel) who has been taken and incorporated into a tribe of Kiowa people. After trying to drop her off at a Union soldier camp, he is ordered to return her to an aunt and uncle she has never met. His journey across the rough plains of Texas is fraught with danger as he tries to return a girl when neither one really has a place to call home.

Tom Hanks gives his usual fine performance, even though it may appear he is sleepwalking through the earnest and enlightened character he regularly chooses. The film is entertaining enough but goes through several of the typical conflicts and scenes that Westerns always seem to have.

The key here, for better or worse, is the new spin that Greengrass tries to create from the source material of Paulette Jiles’s novel of the same name. Davies (Lion) originally adapted the work, but Greengrass rewrote it to reflect modern-day issues based on today’s hot political climate. The result is forced journalism ethics about speaking truth to power by shoving it down the viewer’s throat and sacrifices the storytelling because of it.

News of the World‘s message is south of subtle and the film suffers because of it. Greengrass’s rewrite feels like he put a modern-day fit on a Western whose narrative is less than the sum of its parts. This could have worked with a bit more finesse. Instead, you have a trumped-up message in a Western that lacks a cohesive point of view and an underwhelming experience.


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