#REVIEW: “NEWS OF THE WORLD”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) spends his days going to towns across the southern US reading the world’s news to residents. Along his travels, he encounters Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young girl who was taken and raised by the native Kiowa people. She has no caregiver, so the law says she needs to be brought to her biological aunt and uncle. With no one available to take her, Kidd volunteers for the journey – but it will not be an easy one.
In 2013, Hanks made the pulse-pounding Docu-Drama Captain Phillips with Director Paul Greengrass. The Film was nominated for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture. On paper, the two reuniting on News of the World should be cause for celebration and excitement. So it pains me to say that the Film is not nearly as great as that might sound. It lacks the spark that made Captain Phillips such a riveting experience and has little sense of narrative momentum. Kidd meets Johanna and they set off on their journey fairly quickly, but then the Film slogs along episodically through the remainder of its 118-minute running time. There are a few exciting and heartfelt moments along the way (a thrilling hilltop shootout among the highlights), but News never feels sure of itself and frequently drags. Some may see this as a wondrous throwback to Westerns of yore (or their 2020 brethren, The Mandalorian), but I found it rather monotonous and dull the whole way through.
Thankfully, News of the World makes up for this by having every single frame look absolutely stunning. The Production and Set Design is simply unreal. Every sundrenched vista is gorgeous, every building looks tangible and real and every character looks like they walked right in from the Old West. Even better, the lighting is era-appropriate and completely natural. It makes some of the nighttime scenes a bit of a challenge to see, but lends itself to the Film’s realistic look. I would be shocked if Greengrass used any artificial lighting at all during production. Not one detail goes untouched here. I was left breathless watching Kidd and Johanna’s journey, transfixed by the beauty of the settings around them.
While the CGI is a bit lackluster and the revolving door of Cast members leave little to no impression, our two leads remain strong and consistent throughout. Zengel is beautifully expressive and wonderfully stoic. She spends much of the Film speaking an entirely different language than Hanks, but she works brilliantly off his energy and acts as the soul of the picture. Hanks is terrific as always, playing a more grizzled, world-weary version of typical roles. He works great with Zengel, and does even better in the scenes where he is all on his own. His work is not quite an acting masterclass, but this level of commitment and drive he displays here is exactly what makes him one of the most consistent and dependable actors in the business.
News of the World is every bit as arduous to watch as the journey the lead characters take is. It is a deliberate choice, but one that Greengrass makes up for by composing a film that looks spectacular and will leave you breathless wondering how it all came together. The lead performances from Zengel and Hanks are impeccable as well, but they deserved a more important and less monotonous film to house them in.
Universal Pictures Canada release NEWS OF THE WORLD in theatres on Christmas Day.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*