News of the World: A New Classic Western

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. Photo credit: Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

It may be hard to believe but News of the World marks the first time in his career in which actor Tom Hanks stars in a Western.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) travels around to read people the news.  One could also look at this as being old-school podcasting before podcasting was ever a thing.  To be fair, I think Tom Hanks made this reference when appearing on the late night circuit.  Perhaps it was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert?  In any event, there’s nothing more soothing than Tom Hanks reading the news than maybe Tom Hanks reading the phone book.  As long as Tom Hanks is not reading Mean Tweets on Jimmy Kimmel Live because Tom Hanks is said to be one of the nicest people in Hollywood.  But I digress.

By the time we meet, Captain Kidd, it has been five years since the Civil War came to an end and President Lincoln was killed.  His wife is dead and he’s been through three different wars–including fighting for the Confederacy.  I guess Trump will want to name a military base after him!  These days, he finds himself traveling and sharing the news of the world.  Call it an emptiness or what you will be Kidd is looking for redemption after the war.  It doesn’t matter where the news comes from because he will share it.  A minor in trouble?  You’ll know it.  A head of state in the news?  You’ll know it, too.

While traveling through Texas, Captain Kidd meets Cicada aka Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel), whose parents were German immigrants.  An orphan, she was taken in six years earlier by the Kiowa tribe and this life is all the 10-year-old girl knows.  But given what the conditions are in the United States at the moment, soldiers burned her home and are taking Johanna to her biological aunt and uncle.  Again, all Johanna knows is life with the Kiowa tribe.  While it won’t be an easy trip, Captain Kidd makes the decision–albeit reluctant–to take her to her family. Both of them are dealing with trauma that they need to work through.

We meet all sorts of characters during their travels.  Some nice, others not so nice.  Among the regulars on Kidd’s travels are Red River Station store owners Simon (Ray McKinnon) and Doris Boudlin (Mare Winningham).  And then you have people who put the law into their own hands like Mr. Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy).  Because of the time period, this film is not immune to the racism of its era.  In this case, Mr. Farley will not stop killing until the land solely belongs to white people.

Some of the behavior in the film is not too far removed from where we are right now.  Take Almay (Michael Angelo Covino), for instance.  He refuses to believe that the Civil War is over.  Change the Civil War to the 2020 election and we could be talking about this very moment!  For what it is worth, Paulette Jiles’s novel of the same name was only published in the month leading up to the 2016 election.

In his first attempt at making a film set in the American West, filmmaker Paul Greengrass reunites with Captain Phillips star Tom Hanks.  It is the first Western for both filmmaker and star but you would never know this from watching the film.  Hanks is the perfect professional.  In recreating the time period, the filmmakers also manage to honor the Kiowa with an authentic depiction.  Meanwhile, they film in chronological order so you can see the on-screen bonding between Captain Kidd and Johanna.  German actress Helena Zengel, who portrays Johanna, is a rising star in her own right.  Keep on eye on her because she has a bright future ahead.

Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, and company are making movie magic in News of the World to bring about a new classic Western.

DIRECTOR:  Paul Greengrass
SCREENWRITERS:  Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies
CAST:  Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Fred Hechinger, Bill Camp, Thomas Francis Murphy, Gabriel Ebert

Universal Pictures will release News of the World in theaters on December 25, 2020. A VOD release will follow on January 15, 2021. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.