It’s hard to believe that in Tom Hanks’s illustrious 40-year career, he has never done a Western—until now. It’s not surprising, though, that it was director Paul Greengrass who was the one to convince America’s Dad to climb onto a horse and handle a six-shooter in the new movie News of the World, adapted by Greengrass and Luke Davies from the novel by Paulette Jiles.
In this new movie, coming out on Christmas Day, Hanks plays post-Civil War captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a measly living traveling from town to town in the rapidly expanding Western territories, reading news to the locals. When he comes across an orphan girl who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe as an infant, he feels a responsibility to deliver her to the only family she has left, despite the inherent dangers of the journey.
A cross between Dances with Wolves and The Mandalorian, News of the World is a surprisingly action-packed yet deeply personal movie that lands squarely in Hanks’ wheelhouse. Reuniting with Greengrass, who previously directed him in Captain Phillips, Hanks does what he does best, giving the audience a grounded emotional center around which all matter of hell can swirl. And Greengrass does what he does best, crafting a frills-free action movie that is taut and well-paced. I have to say, seeing Tom Hanks in a shoot-out gave me much more joy than it probably should have.
Greengrass, not known for making movies with a lot of heart, is a craftsman to his core, and News of the World is another exceedingly well-made film that moves along with a brisk pace and ratchets up the tension effectively. But it is Hanks that makes the film breathe, as he carries the movie reliably and effortlessly. He doesn’t get much help from his co-star, Helena Zengel, who plays the orphan Johanna, who basically grunts and mumbles through the film, but that’s not a detriment. If anyone can carry a movie alone, it’s Tom Hanks.
The wide-open vistas of the old West are shot beautifully by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and David Crank’s production design and Lauren Slatten’s art direction bring the Old West to life effectively. All the production values on this film are all first rate.
News of the World is about as standard fare as a movie can get, familiar, safe and predictable. But its genre, essentially a Western crossed with a road movie, lends itself to bursts of action between quiet moments, and it is here where we see the perfect pairing of actor to director. Let Hanks handle the quiet parts and let Greengrass choreograph the action sequences and the result is a film that is much more exciting than you might have expected, and just as touching as you knew it could be.