News of the World (3 stars)

News of the World

Tom Hanks is typically avuncular in Paul Greengrass's moving western, co-starring Helena Zengel

This adaptation of Paulette Jiles's novel might have benefitted from a title change in the UK at least, considering the unfortunate crossover with the disgraced Murdoch tabloid. Given that it's a film that strives for nobility it's probably not an ideal fit. If British director Paul Greengrass probably should have known better, he makes a reasonable stab otherwise at his first western, an odd couple road movie in the mould of True Grit, that reunites him with his Captain Phillips star Tom Hanks.

Hanks inhabits yet another kindly but stoical character, something solid to cling to in the midst of chaos, this time going by the name of Captain Kidd. In a story set in 1870, Hanks is touchingly teamed with Helena Zengel's 10-year-old Johanna. Zengel impressed in 2019's System Crasher as another wild-child and is similarly affecting here. Johanna is of German stock and is found by Kidd early on, having spent four years living as one of the Kiowa after being taken captive. When her Kiowa family are murdered, Johanna becomes an orphan twice over and Kidd, who travels the land reading the news, finds himself compelled to transport the child through notoriously dangerous terrain to place her in the care of her aunt and uncle.

News of the World is unashamedly old-fashioned and although it doesn't quite have the sweep, punch or character to cut it, tonally and thematically it feels very akin to classic westerns. There's regret in Kidd's past and poignancy in his knowledge-bestowing, globe-connecting profession, and even a touch of modern relevance when he pushes back against attempts to control the news that townsfolk receive.

There are small roles for the likes of Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp, while The Climb's hilarious Michael Angelo Covino shows his range by getting stuck into some villainy, but the focus is heavily on the pseudo-father-daughter duo. Greengrass has made a career out of ratcheting up tension in shaky-cam style (think United 93, or his efforts in the Bourne franchise) and although there is an overarching sense of jeopardy, a mountain shootout aside, memorable peril and pace are in shorter supply here. Instead, Greengrass has gone for something more steady, that tugs rather more firmly on the heartstrings, and thanks to the excellent leads it comes off rather nicely.

Available to watch on Netflix from Wed 10 Feb.

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News of the World

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 58min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Paul Greengrass
  • Written by: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Covino, Fred Hechinger, Neil Sandilands, Thomas Francis Murphy, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Chukwudi Iwuji, Ray McKinnon, Bill Camp
  • UK release: 10 February 2021

Five years after the end of the Civil War, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) crosses paths with a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel) taken by the Kiowa people. Forced to return to her aunt and uncle, Kidd agrees to escort the child across the harsh and unforgiving plains of Texas. However, the long journey soon turns…