News of the World is directed by Paul Greengrass (better known for the Bourne movies and Captain Phillips) and stars Tom Hanks as the lead and introducing 12-year-old German actress Helena Zengel as his co-star. The film is a true Western in all respects. Hanks plays a Civil War veteran tasked with delivering a young German immigrant back to what remains of her family after she was taken by the Kiowa people years ago.
As one should expect, Hanks delivers a powerful performance. The character of Captain Kidd excels and endears audiences through Hank’s veteran acting prowess. Captain Kidd convinces the audiences that violence, although he is well versed in it, is not his preferred method of dealing with the world around him. Nevertheless in the wild West, he is pushed to resort to violence more than once. This comes out as refreshing, as our hero is not a careless, suave gunslinger, but someone who has seen the horrors of war and would do anything to avoid more bloodshed.
Zengel’s character of Johanna more than stands her own against an industry giant like Hanks. She is the true treasure within the movie. Complicated and troubled, she represents a mixture of different cultures present at the time. Although she would be considered part of the immigrant people at the time, she was mostly raised by the Kiowa people. Because of this, her character demonstrates the struggles of the cultural differences and the power of being a bridge between those cultures and the ruling American way of life.
Her character is stubborn and strong, yet kind and caring. Her complicated past and above average wit elevate her character beyond a simple plot point to a well fleshed-out character. She aides and (more than once) saves our main character while also providing Captain Kidd material to reflect on his own past and untangle his current conflicts.
Through these characters and the different landscapes and communities they visit, the film has a chance to explore the hardships of the time. Both a commentary on American history and perhaps the climate of today’s world, News of the World explores themes of tribalism caused by ideologies, violence, the importance of communication and information, war and family. It dares to tackle many subjects and succeeds in making the audience reflect on the past and present.
The soundtrack created by James Newton Howard, who previously worked on franchises like The Dark Knight and Hunger Games, is fitting for this throwback to Western movies of the past. It perfectly encapsulates the scores we know and associate with the once dominant genre of Westerns. It proves a worthy companion for the road trip adventure that is this movie.
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski delivers a powerful vision of the wild West. Wolski previously worked with director Ridley Scott in movies like The Martian and the Alien sequels, and also was also responsible for cinematography in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The cinematography for News of the World transmits the grueling and merciless landscapes of the Texas desert effectively to audiences. The minimalism of some compositions manages to convey a lot more than the emptiness of the environments they depict. Action is filmed expertly, adding tension and banking on conflict, without needing to exaggerate action scenes. Overall, the look and feel of this film do exactly what they intended to.
Although the story told in News of the World is not a new one, it is a welcome one. Engaging and wholesome, the film succeeds in delivering powerful emotions and admirable struggles. Hanks once again demonstrates his power as a lead, and Zengel shines in her first major breakthrough for American audiences, as she is the real standout of this movie. News of the World is well-made throwback to an old Hollywood, with all the right things of today’s movie industry.