If film history has taught us one thing, traveling with Tom Hanks can be a very treacherous road. “Cast Away,” “Apollo 13” and even “Captain Phillips” have put Hanks in serious jeopardy through travel. In his second collaboration with “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass, Hanks plays Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. Through several circumstances, Kidd agrees to take a young girl named Johanna (newcomer Helena Zengel) who was taken by the Kiowa people years ago after the death of her parents. Attempting to reunite her with her aunt and uncle against her will, both of them face every challenge the west will offer during their 100-mile journey. What follows is essentially a road-trip movie that proves Tom Hanks is still one of the most engaging actors working today.
In their first collaboration in “Captain Phillips,” both Hanks and Greengrass created a thriller that was narratively tight in its pacing. Besides the infamous “I’m the captain now” line, in two hours and 15 minutes, audiences were kept on the edge of their seats. “News of The World” takes a more languid approach in its storytelling, which certainly isn’t a bad thing in any sense. What makes this work as well as it does are the quieter moments between Zengel and Hanks as they travel from place to place. As a director, Greengrass is someone who’s known for his visual and claustrophobic type action that plunges the audience directly into it. Here he lets the camera take a step back, which allows us to feel the tension. From a particular mountain shootout early on, it just doesn’t let up the tense feeling.
Hanks traveling jokes aside, I would like to shine a particular light on his performance as our protagonist. Kidd as a character is your typical reluctant hero with a tragic past, but Hanks brings a shocking amount of warmth to him. He’s someone who’s caring and wants what’s best for this child, even if that means putting himself in danger. It’s a refreshing take on a character since our typical “reluctant-hero” in this situation usually starts quite cynical and jaded. Now par him with Johanna, someone who has to discover a world and way of life she never knew in the first place, you have some very real drama. Maybe not something that’ll earn the awards the studio hopes for, it does what it needs to surprisingly well.
The biggest weakness of Greengrass’s latest would have to be in how it’s being marketed. In its promotional materials, the expectations that I’m sure many are having reside in it being sold as a western epic. When in actuality we have a relationship and road trip movie about two people who needed to find each other. It’s not the most subtle of ideas, but one that works when we simply have our leads riding together in a wagon. Throw in bouts of stylized western action, you’ve got a combination that’ll certainly leave a mark on its audience.
“News of The World” is a quiet, moving and incredibly well-acted western drama. We’re allowed to see a different side of one of the best actors working today with a brilliant turn from a newcomer. Having not been able to see the film in theaters, my only regret is not being able to take in the sweeping visual aesthetic that Greengrass delivers. If you’re comfortable going to a theater, then I highly encourage making this your out-of-the-house experience. If you want to watch it at home, “News of The World” will still deliver the same cinematic thrills that you’d hope for!