The pandemic may still be with us, but with January always comes Oscar season. And one of the hopes of 2021 is another team from director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks, following the thrilling Captain Phillips from 2013. News of the World is a post-American western based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles. in 2016 and one of the most impressive films of the year to date.
Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a Confederate veteran who made a living traveling through small towns in 1870 in Texas, giving newspaper readings to inform and entertain.
But during his travels, he comes across an overturned wagon containing a Germanic girl called Johanna (Helena Zengel), dressed in Native American clothing.
It turns out that the 10-year-old was kidnapped and raised by the Kiowas and is now twice orphaned.
Kidd reluctantly takes on the task of escorting Johanna to live with her aunt and uncle, on a journey filled with trouble at every turn.
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If the plot sounds familiar to you, you’d be right to spot this Western trope of a lonely traveler who reluctantly takes on a vulnerable, sometimes precious, child on a quest to bring the youngster back to their extended family.
Most recently, we saw him on Star Wars The Mandalorian, in which a bounty hunter takes care of Baby Yoda, while Hugh Jackman’s last fight as Wolverine in Logan saw his character X- Men take care of a girl with similar mutant powers.
Or perhaps a more traditional Western example is Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross in The Coen Brothers’ True Grit.
Similar to these tales, News of the World sees Hanks’ Captain Kidd battling fatherhood through scenes of great courage as he does all he can to protect Johanna and bring her home.
If anything, it’s such a shame that News of the World isn’t hitting theaters in the UK, but is heading to Netflix instead.
Still, Greengrass’s latest addition is a great choice for spending a home theater night with family or roommates during lockdown.
Besides the themes of fatherhood, News of the World is of striking relevance as a topical parable about division and fake news.
During their travels, Captain Kidd and Johanna encounter a militia that seeks to cleanse their county of strangers.
The militia aggressively get Kidd to read the news to the city under their control, but from the approved newspaper; one who portrays their leader in an unmistakably positive light. However, Hanks’ leader decides to read one of the diaries he picked up on his travels away from the gated community.
If anything such scenes seem to be a commentary on how the news is consumed today; with our social media bubbles often showing us only one side of an argument, thus helping to create a culture of suspicion or even intolerance towards those outside our own networks and political leanings.
Paraphrasing Greengrass in a recent Q&A for the film, truthful storytelling is a powerful divisive healing.
News of the World airs on Netflix from February 10, 2021.