Film Review: “News of the World”


From IMDb.

Dean Robbins, Arts Editor

Paul Greengrass has made his career on slickly intense thrillers from the Bourne films to Captain Phillips (“I’m the captain now”). Now, in the 2020s, the director has made a turn into the Western, far away from his previous films. Shaky-cam is almost entirely excised and much of the film is just wandering. Pulse-pounding suspense is replaced by long journeys through the Texan frontier.

These journeys are undertaken by Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks), a man who travels Texas reciting the news to the illiterate masses. Along the way, Kidd picks up an orphaned girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel). Johanna lost two families: first her German birth family and second her Kiowa family. There is little else to this film than what I have told you.

There is a light dosage of action, a bit of neoliberal pontificating, and Tom Hanks getting to know Helena Zengel. The film can look quite beautiful with its vast vistas and Hanks and Zengel have a decent chemistry. Zengel has attracted a lot of awards attentions, including a nomination from the Chicago Film Critics Association. What I do not understand is why Greengrass decided to make this movie.

Without getting into spoilers, there is no point to the film. At best, “News of the World” is a very broad white savior movie. Kidd comes into these poor Texan towns and enlightens them to rise against the bourgeoisie and think freely. The resolution of Kidd’s relationship with Johanna fits into this vein. Greengrass or co-writer Luke Davies have little to say about Johanna’s dual identity besides making a few dull fish-out-of-water jokes or the rifts between the pre-Civil War Southern veterans and Confederate veterans. All of these aspects are teased at before the film pulls away back into more journeying through the wilderness.

It comes as no surprise that Netflix purchased the film outside of the US. Like many of the streamer’s other efforts (see “Project Power” or “Outside The Wire”), “News of the World” is a vaguely politically charged but ultimately empty thriller that will likely be remembered by no one but Greengrass’ most avid fans or your dad, if he voted for Bush and Clinton. And these two groups will still only watch the film when it inevitably plays at 11pm on the dying cable networks of TNT or AMC. An all-around miserable affair that feels useless either as politic, entertainment, or technical experiment.