The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - NEWS OF THE WORLD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - NEWS OF THE WORLD

news of the world review
In 1870 Texas, a man attempts to reunite an orphaned German girl with her family.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Neil Sandlands, Mare Winningham, Ray McKinnon, Bill Camp

news of the world poster

German child star Helena Zengel made us all sit up and take notice last year with her breakout role in Nora Fingscheidt's affecting drama System Crasher. In that movie she played a feral wild child taken under the wing of a benevolent man who believes he can civilise her. It didn't take long for Hollywood to notice Zengel's talents, as she's already made her American debut in Paul Greengrass's western News of the World, in which she plays...a feral wild child taken under the wing of a benevolent man who believes he can civilise her.

news of the world review

It's 1870 Texas, and the potential saviour in question is Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks at his Hanksiest), a former Confederate Captain who now makes a living travelling from town to town reading from a selection of local, national and international newspapers to attentive crowds of illiterates. While on his travels, Kidd stumbles across Johanna (Zengel), a young German girl decked out in the garb of the Kiowa tribe, who abducted her after slaughtering her family six years prior. When nobody in the vicinity is willing to look after the child, Kidd takes it upon himself to escort her on the 400 mile journey to deliver her to a surviving aunt and uncle.

Along the way, the pair get into various scrapes, battling off would-be rapists, upsetting land barons and avoiding the Native tribes heard in the distance. Despite their language barrier, the two form a largely adorable bond, leading to a predictable conclusion.

news of the world review

News of the World resembles a gritty, revisionist 1970s western that has had its edges sandpapered to make it more palatable for a modern White liberal audience. Kidd is exactly the sort of unimpeachable do-gooder Hanks is so often attracted to, and there are two major issues with his character. One is that he feels like a product of our modern progressiveness that has anachronistically been planted in 1870s America, always saying exactly the right thing to win our moral approval. But the major problem with Kidd is that he has no dramatic arc of note. He begins the movie as a morally upright man, and - to borrow from an analogy employed in the movie - simply carries on in a straight line. As such, there's never any real conflict between himself and Johanna, who warms to him far too quickly. A more interesting version of this movie might have had Kidd accept the mission to return Johanna to her family for purely monetary reasons, only for him to develop an affection for the child as the story progresses. You could imagine a grouchy '70s Clint Eastwood and a ruddy faced Tatum O'Neal pulling off this dynamic in a Don Siegel movie.

Greengrass's film is so smugly content with its liberal ideals that it's blind to how problematic it really is. No Black characters get a speaking part, but a lynched corpse is cheaply used as a prop to illustrate how Kidd is disgusted by racism. The film likely thinks it's being even-handed in its treatment of the Kiowa, with Kidd remarking how Johanna has lost two sets of parents. Why then does the movie take a detour to the site of the massacre of her German family, with the bloody aftermath of the slaughter painted on walls and ocre-encrusted mattresses, but refuses to similarly reflect on the killing of her Kiowa kin at the hands of the Cavalry? There's also a stench of elitism about Kidd, who sanctimoniously lectures yokels about the importance of reading and storytelling, when they're too busy breaking their backs building railroads and tending to crops for such niceties.

news of the world review

If you can look past the film's hypocritical politics, there's an engaging enough Sunday afternoon western romp to be enjoyed here. Greengrass has thankfully invested in a tripod, eschewing the migraine inducing shaky cam style he's known for, and while the film is rather blandly shot, at least it's not distracting, as Greengrass wisely keeps focus on his charismatic leads.

The most interesting aspect of News of the World is how Kidd delivers the news, facing the question of which stories he should tell depending on the audience. It's a shame the movie doesn't delve deeper into this notion, as it's a topic ripe for exploring in our era of heavily editorialised news coverage.

News of the World
 is on Netflix UK/Ireland now.

2021 movie reviews