The hyper-active directorial style of Paul Greengrass is not well-suited to a meandering Western, so I was surprised that his “News of the World” is so restrained. It’s actually too restrained. (Somebody pinch me. This can’t be real life. I actually called a Greengrass film “restrained”).
Based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, this dull, tedious movie is as forgettable as they come. Set in 1870s Texas, a young girl (Helena Zengel) who was stolen by the Kiowa people when she was an infant has been found. Civil War veteran and traveling news reader Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is tasked with returning the child to her last remaining family, despite the girl’s wishes to remain with her captors. To get to her uncle’s farm, the pair must embark on a long journey that covers hundreds of miles across dangerous terrain. Along the way, they face dangers at nearly every turn as they journey to a better place that they can call home.
The slow tempo doesn’t do the story any favors, and Greengrass brings a bit of his nausea-inducing handheld camerawork because apparently he just can’t help himself. It isn’t as distracting as in some of the director’s previous films (“Captain Phillips,” “Jason Bourne”), but it is noticeable.
The story is too simple and doesn’t seem well-suited for the big screen. There are some mildly interesting ideas about race and cultural identity that are presented, and having a character that delivers stories from newspapers to sheltered, small town residents who otherwise wouldn’t have a clue about what was happening in the world should feel more relevant in our current climate of fake news and division. Sadly, the movie isn’t as profound as it thinks it is or it could have been.
“News of the World” bored me overall, but the film’s saving grace is Hanks, who was made for a role like this. He’s terrific and sympathetic as a calm, paternal figure who just wants to do what’s right. I wouldn’t say his performance is a standout, but is solid and reliable, just like Hanks always seems to be.
By: Louisa Moore