News of the World, a western with Tom Hanks

Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks in News of the World.

Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks in World news.
Photo: Bruce W. Talamon / Universal Studios

World news could be set in post-civil war Texas, but it opens with an outbreak of meningitis and ends with an outbreak of cholera – a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) reminder of director Paul Greengrass that even then when he makes movies set at a fixed point in the past, they are finally about how things are now. Based on Paulette Jiles’ excellent 2016 novel, World news He follows Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a former Confederate army captain, as he tries to transport Johanna (Helena Zengel), a 10-year-old German girl raised by Kiowa, back to what’s left of her family. In another era – when the Western genre was a vessel for all sorts of myths about white settlement and civilization – the film could have been about the return of a lost, wild soul to the comfort of an imaginary community. World news he has the elegiac disposition and epic appearance of a classic western, but his vision of civilization is much more complicated. No place in this movie feels at home, neither for Kidd nor for Johanna. The stops in their journey seem more and more suffocating, empty, violent, infernal. These two are nomads both practically and spiritually.

Kidd’s task is to go from city to city reading to the public newspapers around the world. He mixes pieces of current events with evocative stories from distant lands, half-interpreting his narratives to increase the interest of the crowd. In her novel, Jiles makes it clear that this bottomless job is all this former printer could get. Kidd’s film version invests him with a little more nobility and power: He understands the effect his stories can have on his audience and, throughout the film, learns to exercise this power more clearly. His stories are about mysterious events, wonderful inventions, political events – and they all serve to open up the world and maybe even place the listener somewhere in it. As Kidd reads and his audience responds, we feel that we are witnessing the beginning of something strange, new, and frightening: the beginnings of a connected, self-aware society.

Kidd and Johanna, like many of Greengrass’s characters, fall into different tribes in a time of enormous change. He is a defeated soldier, reluctant in an army that no longer exists, with bad memories of a terrible war, but he loads his stories with a sense of wonder and optimism that feels authentic. Hanks usually brings his kindness and underestimated authority, but he also brings fatigue and melancholy: World news it feels like the first true Tom Hanks movie about Old Man and is the most exciting he has experienced in recent years. (I would argue that this is his best work since his last collaboration with Greengrass, Captain PhillipsMeanwhile, Johanna was torn from two different families – one German, one Kiowa – just as she is supposed to be developing her identity. The most heartbreaking moment of the film is found on the banks of a river, sitting on a rock in the rain, crying and begging a Native American tribe half migrated visibly over water to take her back to her Kiowa family.

Meanwhile, around the two protagonists of our roots lies the failed state of Texas, which Greengrass shoots with the wide-eyed immersion he brought in previous films in war-ravaged Northern Ireland and the post-American invasion. Baghdad. It is a land that alternates between huge spaces and crowded cities, boiling with division and threat, broken places full of broken people. But this time, the director chooses to give up the portable “shaky-cam” aesthetic, which has begun to become a punch in some of his films. World news it’s obsessively gorgeous, with views where you can get lost and a James Newton Howard score, which polishes and wipes and sweeps. It’s weird to see a western in 2020 that actually dares to be a westerner, especially coming from a director who has specialized so long in urgent, high-tech thrillers, ripped off. But maybe it’s not such a weird combination. World news it has the pitfalls of an old-fashioned epic, but it also has a restless and modern soul.

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