In post-civil war America, where tensions remain rife, Tom Hanks takes it upon himself to escort a twice-orphaned girl to her surviving relatives 400 miles away in the deep South. Directed and written by Paul Greengrass as well as Lion scribe Luke Davies and based off a novel by Paulette Jiles, News of the World portrays a divided America, relevant to contemporary audiences.
Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Confederate soldier, whose morals now appear to be in the right place as he tries to heal division through reading uplifting stories from the ‘world’ news. Hanks’ performance isn’t showy but its brilliant nonetheless, as usual he proves to be a captivating screen presence with his charisma. Hollywood newcomer Helena Zengel, who recently picked up a Golden Globe and SAG award nomination plays Johanna, a twice orphaned girl, again without a home. The strength of Zengel’s performance is that she holds her own against Hanks.
Unlike United 93 or his Bourne films, Greengrass opts not to use the frenetic energy of his trademark ‘shaky-cam’ instead using longer takes and wider shots, which show the need for stability in this post-civil war America and the scale of the natural Texan landscape. Comparison will no doubt come to the Coen Brothers 2010 western True Grit, although unlike the satire of that film, Greengrass’ film shoots straight, opting for emotional swings rather than laughs.
News of the World doesn’t bring anything fresh to the western genre but it’s worth the watch for its relevance in today’s political climate and the strength of the ever-impressive Hanks and newcomer Zengels performances alone.