FlixChatter Review: NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)

First, a confession: I’m not a big fan of Westerns. Yes, there have been some Western movies I liked, most notably The Big Country, The Magnificent Seven, 3:10 To Yuma, The Dark Valley (this last one is an Austrian Western!). But when I received a screener of this one, I was intrigued because of Tom Hanks in the lead role, and later I learned it’s his first Western.

Well, his first foray into the genre proved to be more of a drama than a shoot-em-up action, which I actually prefer. The film is set five years after the end of the Civil War in the late 1800s, a turbulent, dark period in America. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) is a Civil War veteran who now works as a news reader, traveling from town to town and charging a dime per person to read aloud from newspapers. Honestly I didn’t even know such a profession exist before I watched this movie. But what perfect casting, who doesn’t want Mr. Hanks to read news to you in the only way he can.

Capt. Kidd is about to move to another town after he read the news when he came across an overturned wagon, a lynched black man and a young white girl dressed in Native American clothing. He soon realized she’s a German native who had been taken by the Kiowa tribe and able to speak the language. It’s upon meeting the 10-year-old Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel) that the adventure began, as Kidd reluctantly agreed to deliver the girl to the only family she has left. But the hundreds-mile journey to San Antonio proved to be a rough and dangerous one, but provided ample time for the two of them to slowly bond.

I quite love a road movie when it’s done well and News of The World is a road-Western that makes the most of the two strong characters. Even though it’s mostly the two of them on screen for long periods of time, it’s never boring to me. There are a few shoot-em-ups up on a treacherous mountain region when the two were pursued by ex-Confederate soldiers-turned-hoodlums who wanted to purchase Johanna. The wilderness shootout was perhaps one of the few tense scenes in the film that’s also a key bonding moment for Kidd and Johanna. They also face more danger in their next stop when they encounter a radical gang who turns out to be in control of a small mining town. The gang leader obviously wants to keep outsiders out and feels threatened when Kidd disobeyed his orders to only read the news from his own ‘approved’ paper.

The quieter moments prove to be the most emotionally moving, such as when the two were trapped in a ferocious dust storm. The storm itself was remarkably filmed as it felt quite real, but it’s the moment when Kidd thought he’d lose Johanna forever that’s truly memorable. It’s a genuinely surprising moment that got me teared up, and the two actors’ performance truly brought the beautiful moment to life. Which brings me to the major strength of the film, which is the synergy between these two unlikely pairing. Hanks has always been a reliable actor, but it’s the now 12-year-old Zengel that’s the biggest surprise. She’s not only captivating to watch but she’s also able to match Hanks’ intensity and her taciturn role require her to act with her eyes and mannerism, which she pulled off beautifully.

It’s quite a departure for Paul Greengrass (who worked with Hanks in Captain Phillips) who’s known for his hand-held camera style in his action films. I’d say it’s a pretty restrained direction that works well for the story. There are slow moments in the movie, but it never felt tedious, which is a testament to the solid script Greengrass co-wrote with Luke Davies. Working with DP Dariusz Wolski, it’s a stunning film visually that made me wish I had seen this on the big screen. I also like James Newton Howard‘s reflective music that complements the vast open spaces of the American west.

This movie boasts one of the most memorable finale that closes the chapter of the two characters wonderfully. The themes of identity and sense of belonging, especially in regards to Johanna, are explored well here. It doesn’t pass judgment in regards to her dark past and how she ended up being a lost girl, but I feel like it presents the reality of that time period in an authentic way. I also love that in the end, that sense of belonging isn’t just confined to Johanna, but also to Capt. Kidd, and that’s what makes the ending so special.

Have you seen NEWS OF THE WORLD? Well, what did you think?

19 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)

  1. I do hope to see this as I know it will be on HBO real soon as I do like westerns and this just seems interesting so I’ll wait for it. Plus, it’s good to see Tom Hanks in a western as it looks like the kind of film my dad would’ve liked.

    1. If you like Westerns then i think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s not an action western though there are some shoot-em-up scenes, but it’s the warmth of the central relationship of the leads that made the film memorable.

  2. I’m a big fan of westerns so I’m looking forward to seeing this one soon. It’s kind of unbelievable that this is Hanks’ first western film! If you like this type western then I think you’ll enjoy many of the western films in the past. Most of them were not shoot’em up like The Magnificent Seven or 3:10 To Yuma remake or the more popular ones like Tombstone and Young Guns. Heck even Eastwood’s popular spaghetti westerns trilogy had very little action in them.

    My favorite and to me, still the best western is Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Even though there were some shoot outs in that film, it’s more of a drama/revenge. Eastwood wanted to make anti violent film and he made sure that he didn’t glamorize the violence at all.

    1. Yeah I was surprised too given he seems to be a fan of the genre when he was talking about working for Clint Eastwood. Yeah, I really should see Unforgiven, I didn’t know Eastwood wanted to make anti-violent film, hmmm now I’m even more curious. Maybe Eastwood should direct Hanks in a Western one day!

        1. Oh really? I wonder why. But yes, Hanks often talked about Eastwood when he was promoting SULLY, that’s why I was surprised he hasn’t done a Western before.

  3. Oh this was a great read! I have to fess up, I haven’t watched this yet and it’s because I’m not a Western fan either. Knowing that it’s more of a Drama though makes it more appealing! I’ve never disliked a Tom Hanks movie (so far).

    1. I totally understand, Allie, but don’t let the genre dissuade you. This one is actually more of a drama and he isn’t exactly a Cowboy. I guess he’s played a cowboy before as Woody in Toy Story, ahah. Have you seen The Circle? That’s one of the few Tom Hanks movies that has pretty bad reviews, so I kind of avoided it.

      1. Funnily enough I haven’t seen that one and it was the reviews that put me off! Ages ago I recommended the movie Circle (2015) to my parents and they messaged me a week later to say they thought it was terrible and were disappointed because they love Tom Hanks. Turns out they watched THE Circle instead!

        1. Yeah same, I was curious at first but the reviews put me off. I had to google what the 2015 Circle movie was about. Oh wow, too bad your parents got it confused. But hey, sounds like we definitely should avoid THE CIRCLE!

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  8. PrairieGirl

    Just saw this on DVD and give it 3 of 5 stars. I could give it four if it were not for all the deleted scenes! It’s crazy you can only see these on DVD but not streaming. In the special features the director kept talking about how central and important Johana and Kidd’s relationship was, but all the deleted scenes included the two of them. One was so charming and unexpected: Johanna unhitched the horse behind the wagon, mounted it and trotted circles around the wagon all the while Kidd was still driving and wondering what she was up to. It turns out she can really handle a horse and it was a very amusing and heartwarming scene early on while they were still getting to know each other. But they CUT IT OUT! They could have easily shortened the shoot out scene with the would-be kidnapers and some of the wide shots of them on the trail. Whoever made these editing decisions made some big mistakes, and you’d never know it unless you watch the deleted scenes that shouldn’t have been. If you liked it as it was, you would have enjoyed it even more had those scenes not been taken out.

    1. Hey Becky, sorry somehow I missed your comment. Thanks for mentioning about the deleted scene, I never would’ve known since I saw it on streaming. Yeah it’s baffling sometimes why certain things got edited out when it’s actually a good scene between the two leads. I totally wouldn’t mind them cutting the shoot-out scene to include this scene you speak of.

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