Directed by Paul Greengrass, News of the World tries to give us a taste of life in Texas during the post-Civil War years. Yet even Tom Hank’s couldn’t help give this film the edge it needed to rise above the rest.
News of the World is a good film, but not great. Greengrass does a great job at laying the base foundation of a western. However, the storyline provided for a predictable and generic portrayal. The film does have a few high points though, providing beautiful landscape shots, authentic-time period sets, and a wonderful performance by Helena Zengel as Johanna.
As the film unfolds, the story primarily centers around the two lead characters: Former Confederate Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and Johanna, a German-born minor raised by the Kiowa tribe. Some of the best scenes in the film came from the simple dialogue between the two. Tom Hanks provides his stellar acting skills to the film, but what he makes no attempt at is an authentic voice. For a film set in post-civil war Texas, you do not hear a trace of a Texas dialect. I found this pretty disappointing, because it did not make me believe it was Captain Kidd. I was watching Tom Hanks on screen, not Captain Kidd.
Hanks is a phenomenal actor, however, I would not recommend he take another western role unless paired with other strong western actors. Yet with that said, his co-star Helena Zengel provided an impressive performance in her role of Johanna. From the start, Zengel shows the different dynamics of Johanna’s personality. Originally raised by her German family, and adopted by the Kiowa tribe after their demise, Johanna is a complex character who provides a wide assortment of emotions to the viewer. I found myself questioning her at the beginning of the film, but quickly changed opinions as her character developed.
It isn’t until the midway point of the movie that we see her truly break out in the role, providing a wonderfully executed dramatic bonding scene with Hanks. This scene is one of three emotional scenes where the film allows the viewer to embrace Johanna.
“I guess we all have demons to face, going down this road”Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd
The film unfortunately also provides a lazy layout of predictable conflict scenes. I found myself quickly predicting the outcome of each conflict, which left the scenes a bit boring. To make those scenes a bit worse, the production also used a slew of poorly executed CGI scenes when editing these conflict scenes together.
One scene involved a rock crashing down a hillside, and I found myself asking “Why couldn’t they have just used a real rock?”. The CGI in that scene really screamed out “Fake”. As a whole, the use of CGI in this film was very disappointing, including its use in the dust storm scene. This was a perfect example of when “new technology” does not always mean “better technology” in film making.
When watching any Western film, whether it’s from decades ago or a modern film. One of the major features is the wide landscape shots. A western without these scenes wouldn’t feel like a western at all. Fortunately, News of the World offers a plethora of wide-angle desert landscape shots.
The production also used drones to provide overhead coverage, giving the viewer beautiful shots in crystal clear quality. This helped add authenticity to the picture, providing a true sense that this was a western film. Greengrass paired these shots with authentic western towns and sets. However, he fell short by leaving a generic feeling about each location. While it is true that many towns appeared alike in the post-Civil war days. I think he could have added some extra details to help differentiate the towns and locations to the viewer.
Another area the film shined in was overall film length, which in my opinion is an overlooked yet important variable to every film. A film should never leave a viewer feeling cheated by the story, and also shouldn’t leave the viewer begging for the film to end. News of the World hits a perfect sweet spot of two hours, giving the viewer enough time to process the film and not grow tired of the story. Fortunately, due to its simple storyline, the film also provided the viewer with an easy-to-follow story. The simple storyline helped this film dramatically, however also harmed the film due to its generic conflict scenes.
Overall, News of the World is a good film for viewers of appreciating Tom Hanks films. I think those who are fans of Hanks will view this film with a bias. The true winning actor from the film is Zengel, with her emotional and dramatic performances throughout the film. Equally as impressive was her ability to portray the Kiowa language, speaking hardly any English in the film. I would certainly recommend this strictly based on Zengel’s performance alone. I am confident that this won’t be the last we see from her!
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