NEWS OF THE WORLD (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.
Captain Jefferson Kidd from News of the World might be the same Captain John Miller from Saving Private Ryan and the latter might also be the same Captain Chesley Sullenberger in Sully if you believe in such a thing called reincarnation. Kidd, Miller and Sully are all honourable, brave men who has no qualms risking whatever it takes to fulfil their missions. Coincidentally, all three characters are played by Hollywood’s most likeable actor, Tom Hanks.
In his second collaboration with Paul Greengrass (we forgot there is Captain Phillps also), Greengrass takes Hanks to the Wild Wild West. Captain Jefferson Kidd is a former civil war veteran who is now making his living travelling from town to town reading newspapers to folks who are eager to know more about news outside their small town. On one such occasion, Kidd found a white girl dressed in native clothing all alone beside an overturned wagon. He learnt that her real name is Joanna (newcomer Helena Zengel) although she can no longer speaks her mother tongue. As there is no one to turn to, Kidd has no choice but to take on the mission of bringing Jonna back to her living relatives.
The story that Greengrass and Luke Davis has concocted is downright simple and bare. It has all the predictable tropes of a good old western. You know the ones that consist of familiar dusty, harsh environment where crooks and danger lurks at every corner. Yet it’s also a character-driven drama where the relationship between an aged man and a young girl that is old enough to be her granddaughter is forged and bonded along a treacherous journey.
Kidd attempts to teach Joanna English and the latter reciprocates by teaching him Kiowa, language of the Native Americans. He taught her what is coffee and sugar and she taught him how to fire a rifle when you run out of bullets. Greengrass does things the old-fashioned way and as audiences, appreciate his emotive touches and his frequent attentiveness to lush and picturesque shots of the vast landscape. New Mexico standing in for Texas by the way. Ridley Scott’s frequent collaborator, Polish cinematographer Dariusz Wolski of course deserved the praise as well. At least, Greengrass’s signature vomit-inducing shaky cams are nowhere in sight.
Despite running for almost two hours, the movie never feels bored or dry. There’s a heart-pounding shootout in the wild between Kidd and three hooligans who are out to kidnap Joanna. It doesn’t possess all the flashy treatment of a typical shootout but at least it sells Kidd’s heroism beautifully. Greengrass also smartly smuggled in a subtle message about the current political climate when Kidd and Joanna encountered a racist town leader, Mr Farley before encountering a deadly dust storm.
Just in time for the awards season, Greengrass and Hanks delivered a likeable, entertaining Western epic in the form of News of the World. German young actress Helena Zengel puts in a sensitive, warmth performance as a girl trying to find her place in a vast strange land. Hanks as usual is effortlessly fantastic regardless which Captain he plays onscreen. For a tale about redemption, troubled times and fatherly love, this is a damn fine Western although you won’t see Captain Kidd bursting out of saloon doors firing his rifle anytime soon.
Review by Linus Tee