VERIFICATION: World news (2020)
I have a strange relationship with the western gender. The West had its place in the sun long before I was born. Even later favorites like Unforgiven and Silverado were a bit ahead of my time. I haven’t seen many westerns, and the ones I have seen are obvious choices, like The Magnificent Seven, but I’ve liked just about everyone I’ve seen. Last Christmas, the movie News of the World, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass, was released in theaters. I don’t know how that got under my radar, especially with the talent. Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Juliette Giles, the film tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a retired Confederate soldier who becomes a professional reader of short stories.
The movie tells the same basic story, though I’m not sure if it’s close or different. Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) travels from town to town reading local and national news to anyone with a coin in their pocket. His life of solitude and wandering is interrupted when he runs into a guard next to a wrecked car. Of course he checks, but his search is interrupted by Union soldiers who wonder about his character and the purpose of his presence. After disposing of the ammunition and identifying him as harmless, the brigade commander ordered Kidd to escort the sole survivor home. Joanna, a mysterious and seemingly wild young girl who speaks no English, embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with Captain Kidd. Many obstacles and few friends stand in their way as they both look for a home and family.
News of the World interests me because I’m surprised to see Tom Hanks at the helm and Paul Greengrass in the director’s chair. Hanks does a pretty good job as Captain Kidd. I’m just used to Hanks dramatizing real stories these days. At first I even thought it was him. When I saw the name Greengrass, it reminded me of Bourne’s films. Although I have to say that a search to make sure Greengrass wasn’t directing a western didn’t reveal that he wasn’t directing The Bourne Identity, so that lets me see. News of the World photography is absolutely stunning, showing both the lush landscapes of Texas and the horrors that animals and people face there. Tom Hanks is as charismatic as ever, and the mystery surrounding his character’s past is intriguing throughout the film. It is the first English-language film by German actress Helena Sengel, and it is truly a revolutionary achievement. Let’s hope she can draw attention to what she may have done. Child actors are not well known, and this role relies heavily on facial expressions and body language, especially at a young age. The fact that her facial features are so striking that she almost seems to be from another world is a plus. For long parts of the film, she acts more like a wild animal than a child, and it’s a testament to Elena’s young talent that this seems believable and not silly. Later in the film, she also speaks three different languages (English, German and Kiowa), especially after trying to communicate with Kidd. Again, this could have easily gone in an awkward direction, but it has that role in every way. It was also a pleasant surprise to see Mare Winningham as the wife of Kidd’s former colleague. I love her very much, and she does a good job of showing both the fear of the unpredictable child and the mother’s concern for her well-being. I especially liked the scene where she fights an unruly child who prefers a Kiowa suit for animals. Elizabeth Marvel briefly appears as Mrs. Gannett, innkeeper and friend of the Kidd with privileges. I don’t know this actress, and she’s not a big part of the movie. However, her empathy for Joanna is very convincing, and she has good chemistry with Hanks.
The rest of the distribution, however, is unremarkable. I don’t know any of the other actors in the other projects, and their performances range from helpful to entertaining. The News of the World presents a few bands of bad guys that Kidd and Joanna have encountered, and most of them look silly. They are very mean and more than willing to use violence to get what they want, but I find their motives and actions absurd. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the first trio of antagonists want to buy Joanna from Kidd for reasons other than the game. The effort of a bunch of perverts to jerk off seemed forced and unbelievable. These guys want to kidnap an old man and a helpless, confused girl. My first impression of them was that they were slimy cowards, but in the end they were willing to do almost anything to achieve their goal. I understand that they need to create a conflict within the plot, so the duo are facing these people. But something about their dialogue and performance makes them look like cartoon villains from Saturday Night Live. And I’m talking about Gargamel, not the Joker, when I say that. It doesn’t ruin the movie because they’re not the center of attention and won’t be around for long; it’s just a disappointment that a movie that is otherwise so much better has such flashy villains. One of the highlights of the film is James Newton Howard’s music, which is in full swing. I usually like Howard a lot, so I’m not surprised. It complements small intimate scenes and animates them as perfectly as the bustle of the streets of big cities. The main theme of the film really makes you feel like you are experiencing something special.
Conclusion: On the plus side
All in all, I really enjoyed the world news. I have a gift for bad guys and bits of dialogue. But Kidd, Joanna and their connections are more than enough to carry this film and keep me enthralled.
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