Nowadays, if you want a selection of news from various publications, you can use a cell phone app. But if you lived in Texas in 1870, you could pay a dime to watch Tom Hanks go through a pile of newspapers and read some articles aloud. Seems like a much better deal.
In “News of the World”, a modest and solid western directed by Paul Greengrass and based on the novel by Paulette Jiles, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, a Civil War veteran going through a post-bellum as an aggregator. new analog. Kidd, who fought on the Confederate side, travels from place to place, peddling a mixture of diversion and information. He promises threads that will distract his audience from their own troubles, though his choices include reports of a meningitis outbreak, a coal mine fire, and a ferry crash.
All of this can be seen as entertainment given the gravity of the local situation. Five years after the end of the war, a state of simmering hostility persists in much of Texas. Union soldiers patrol towns and roads, sparking the resentment of a white population reluctant to join the United States. Kidd stumbles after a lynching and hears frequent reports of violence against Indians and Mexicans. As is customary in westerns, this bloodshed is part of the film’s background rather than its overt subject. The title is a bit misleading; The story is intimate and specific, and takes care to squeeze out any political implications that might make viewers uncomfortable.
Kidd is a variation of a familiar Western archetype – a wandering soul who has seen and done terrible things, and whose distrust of others cannot mask his basic decency. The first thing we see of the man are the battle scars on his torso, and before we have heard much about him, we think he inflicted and endured pain. We know he’s a great guy, although we don’t hear much about the lost cause he fought for – not an unusual choice in a western, but one that may have outlived his fit. Since this is the Tom Hanks we’re talking about, cuteness is the dominant note, and the drama stems less from the character’s internal ethical struggle than from the external challenges he faces in his quest to do the right thing.
These challenges include various villains, wagon issues, rough terrain, and inclement weather. All this and more besets Kidd on his journey in the company of a young girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel). The child of German farmers, Johanna was kidnapped and raised by the Kiowa tribe, and has now been orphaned twice. After a wave of other misfortunes, Kidd takes it upon himself to deliver the girl, who does not speak English, to an aunt and uncle in Castroville, far in the Hill Country.
In its bones, “News of the World” is a B western, thin and linear, its spare plot adorned with effective sets. Greengrass, one of the most inventive and rigorous action directors currently in office – his chapters in the Jason Bourne franchise remain unmatched in terms of velocity and spatial consistency – honors the tradition of the genre rather than trying to reinvent it. When Kidd and Johanna are chased by evil outlaws along a treacherous ridge line, the ensuing shootout is a throwback and a masterclass, as tight and mean and suspenseful as anything. in an old film by Budd Boetticher.
Other pleasures include a nice supporting cast (Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, and Bill Camp, among others) and the bond between Hanks and Zengel, an impressively controlled young actor who refuses any temptation to cuteness. None of the performers exaggerate the sympathy that develops between Kidd and Johanna, and the film is tender without sinking too much into sentimentality.
But it can also be a little soft and swollen. Too much real grain has been sanded, too many hard truths of history nodded and turned away. James Newton Howard’s musical score is extremely important and helps to give the impression that the scale is not quite right. It’s not a bad movie. The problem is, this is too good a movie, too careful and compromised, as if its creators don’t trust audiences to handle the real news of the world.
Classified PG-13. Discreetly managed violence. Duration: 1 hour 58 minutes. In theaters. Please review the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.