News of the World is thoughtful and beautifully shot Western story. Tom Hanks delivers a strong, yet familiar performance as Helena Zengel shines.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, starring Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel, News of the World adapts the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles. The film takes place five years after the Civil War, following Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former soldier who goes from town to town reading newspapers. Kidd soon finds himself with the responsibility of taking care of 10-year-old Johanna, an orphan who no longer knows who she is, or where she belongs. The two go on a journey of self-discovery and survival.
News of the World feels old-school in almost every way. From Greengrass’ style, a slow-paced script, and classic Western atmosphere, the film feels like a momentary experience out of time. The film does a masterful job of building a believable environment. Strong production designs from the sets, to the costumes create a world where these characters can exist and thrive in. News of the World is slow, and it wants to move at a snail’s pace from beginning to end. From the opening moments of Kidd reading the news to small southern towns, to the stark reality of a Post-Civil War America, the film wants to ease audiences into the setting and the feel.
News of the World is a two-actor show throughout. The film is carried on the backs of Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel, letting their on-screen chemistry grow as the story progresses. Hanks delivers another strong performance. At this point, it’s no longer a surprise when Hanks brings his best to every role. As one of the greatest actors of all time, Hanks lets this role feel a mix of familiar, heartfelt, and thoughtful beats. Much of the dialogue in the movie is given to him, and he delivers on each line, creating a scenario where the audience is at the beck and call of Hanks’ words, just as the townspeople who wait on his news.
Hanks might be the heart of News of the World, Helena Zengel is definitely the soul. Zengel’s performance as Johanna is calm and silent. A companion can be made to Dafne Keen’s performance as X-23 in Logan. Zengel embraces the role well, playing off of Hanks’ performance. Ultimately becoming a father/daughter story, News of the World lets the two actors grow together, their on-screen chemistry seemingly getting better as each scene they share plays. Zengel does not have much dialogue, yet even in her silence, there is strong acting. Her character moves between different moves, feelings, and moments through each act, and Zengel plays each side of Johanna well.
News of the World shines when it takes its time, but that also becomes its detriment in a few key moments. While it is adapting a book, the film sometimes feels like it’s jumping from set piece to set piece, with a slew of characters that show up for 15 minutes, then disappearing as the two protagonists travel onwards. At times, it becomes apparent that the film is moving in chapters, while it works in some instances, it also slows the pace down too much in others. This feels most noticeable in the third act, the final 10 minutes of the film starts to become a sprint to the finish line. In hindsight, having the second act move just a bit faster to let the third act breathe could have elevated the film to higher levels.
Overall, News of the World is thoughtful, moving, and full of beautiful shots as it takes audiences on a journey through an older America. While the film’s slow pace can be a double-edged sword at times, the combined performances of Hanks and Zengel make the film an enjoyable and calming experience.