Five years after the end of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) crosses paths with a ten-year-old girl named Johanna Leonberger (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 into a fight for survival as the traveling companions encounter danger at every turn — both human and natural.
It’s been a while since I have last seen a Paul Greengrass-directed movie. I still haven’t checked out his 2018 feature 22 July, which got a bit of a mixed response from the general public, and so, as a result, I haven’t seen a film of his since Jason Bourne (which I still consider to be an excellent movie and I’m hoping that the sequel comes relatively soon).
But watching his newest feature, News of the World, reminded me how good of a director he can be when he’s given a really good script, and thankfully, this movie has one. It’s not the greatest script of 2020. There are definitely some moments in this film that are highly predictable and it’s fairly obvious where this story is going. But it’s great because of the journey. Although the endpoint may be clear, the journey is treacherous and dark.
The world that’s established in News of the World feels deadly and unforgiving. In the first few minutes of the film, Tom Hanks’ character stumbles upon a lynched black man and that’s just the start of the evil that lurks throughout this movie. Shortly after discovering the man, he notices Johanna and learns that he must take the girl to Union officials, and from there, they will try to return her to her actual family.
But as you can expect, this isn’t so easy. Along the way, there are many roadblocks and obstacles that prevent Johanna from going home and Kidd then takes it in his own hands to do whatever he can to ensure the girl’s safety. Tom Hanks is by far one of my favorite actors of all-time, and I think the same can be said about most people. He is able to bring an inexplicable sense of warmth and comfort to almost every role, and his performance as Captain Kyle Jefferson Kidd is definitely no exception.
It was also just so heartwarming to see Hanks play a father-figure in this movie, because who wouldn’t want Tom Hanks to be their dad? His role here is incredibly nuanced and brimming with joy and warmth. I’d be genuinely surprised if he doesn’t get nominated during the upcoming awards season.
But similarly great here is Helena Zengel who portrays the young girl Johanna Leonberger. She doesn’t have too much dialogue throughout this film, and therefore, a large portion of her scenes are done with just facial expressions and you can tell what she is feeling at every passing moment. You can tell when she’s happy, sad, or angry. And it’s almost always with just facial expressions. It’s amazing how talented Zengel is and I’m hoping that she gets some recognition too.
News of the World certainly could have benefited from a little bit more of a punch though. This movie is the type of movie where you can mostly just sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey that this man and kid go on. It’s not the type of film where you’re going to be on the edge of your seat gripping the chair because of how intense everything is. Aside from one amazing gunfight sequence in the middle, News of the World is a relatively calming yet beautifully touching story. It could have been more thrilling and shocking, but it’s hard to complain too much about this film.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material, and some language
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Running Time: 118 minutes