News of the World

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

News of the World
dir Paul Greengrass
scr Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies
prd Gary Goetzman, Gail Mutrux, Gregory Goodman
with Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Fred Hechinger, Bill Camp, Thomas Francis Murphy, Gabriel Ebert, Winsome Brown, Neil Sandilands
release US 25.Dec.20
20/US Universal 1h58

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hanks and zengel
There's a wonderful everyday quality to this expansive Western, strikingly shot by Dariusz Wolski. Director-cowriter Paul Greengrass keeps the film grounded as the narrative traces an epic journey through a lawless land. It's a warm, human story that can't help but worm its way under the skin as it evokes the power of storytelling itself. And since it's so well-played, we don't mind that it gets a bit sentimental.
In 1870 Texas, Civil War veteran Jefferson (Hanks) travels from town to town to read the global news headlines to eager audiences. Then in between stops, he discovers young Johanna (Zengel), a German girl who was kidnapped by the Kiowa as an infant. At the next town, he offers to take her to her only relatives, a journey that will take weeks. And communication with the strong-willed Johanna is tricky until Jefferson meets Mrs Gannett (Marvel), who can speak Kiowa. But there are thugs along the way who wish them harm.
While the story heads into all of the usual Western scenarios, from runaway horse-carts to ambushes in ravines, the approach is unusually gritty. Shootouts are messy, crowds are rambunctious, and the weather is unpredictable. At each harrowing challenge, Jefferson and Johanna survive by using their wits. And along the way, they become a team, two people who have been made rootless and homeless by random circumstances. They both need a place to belong.

Even as the sparky Hanks invests Jefferson with a straightforward everyman charm and a real depth of feeling, he's well-matched by the formidable Zengel (see also System Crasher). She plays the feisty young Johanna, who has been orphaned twice, with a riveting mix of curiosity and nerve. Their bond is beautifully underplayed, bristling with rough-hewn affection. The people they meet along the way add plenty of interest, most notably the smiley Hechinger as an open-hearted young guy who switches sides and hitches a ride with them.

Set at a time of popular unrest, the political overtones feel eerily resonant. Especially as Jefferson's news reports provoke those who have made up their mind before they hear the truth. He knows how to play the crowd, but the powerful don't like how he encourages average people to stand up for themselves. In the final act, the film turns more introspective, as Jefferson needs to come to grips with his who he is, and what he's going to do next. It's thoughtful and moving, and skilfully gets us thinking.

cert 12 themes, violence 22.Dec.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall