[Review] ‘News of the World’ or an Unlikely Friendship in the Old West

There are 6 new films premiering in theaters or on various streaming services on this Christmas Day and I have reviewed all of them on this blog except for the new western News of the World. So I thought I would share my quick thoughts on the film starring Tom Hanks that comes to theaters and PVOD on January 15th.

For my reviews of the other 5 releases:

Soul

Sylvie’s Love

One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman

Wonder Woman 84

As I said, News of the World stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass who he worked with previously on 2013’s Captain Phillips. Greengrass is famous for his spurning of a steady cam for an intimate close look at the characters (sometimes too close). For the most part I enjoyed that approach to News of the World. It perhaps helps that Hanks is a very likable presence that we enjoy being close with, even in the rough and tumble environment of the old west, which makes it all work.

The film is based on a novel by Paulette Jiles and tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a living going around Texas and reading the news to the illiterate men of the frontier. And he doesn’t just read it but offers a performance, which hopefully makes the news come alive to his audience. It’s almost a mixture of a comedy show and a vaudeville routine without the music. More entertainment than serious news.

One day Jefferson meets a young girl (Helena Zengel) who has been living with the native Kiowa people and doesn’t speak any English. The two form an unlikely duo as they traverse the desert frontier and try to get to her aunt and uncle in Texas.

I enjoyed watching them and their journey from one town and challenge to another. They have a good chemistry, the film is beautiful, and the music by James Newton Howard gives a sweeping feel this kind of story needs. One of the best sequences in the film is a long shootout between Jefferson and a bunch of thugs trying to get the girl.

Like most westerns the pacing is a little on the slow side in News of the World and I can see that being a barrier for some. The production values and immersion into the world is very well done and like I said I enjoyed the bond between Hanks and Zengel but it’s definitely leisurely paced.

I also was sometimes unclear on the character motivations of the thugs after the little girl. Was she valuable in some way? What did they want with her? I didn’t really understand the animosity against Jefferson’s character.

That said, it doesn’t really matter because News of the World is a simple journey story of 2 people traveling together and becoming friends. It’s a formula that almost always works and it does here. I enjoyed spending time with these people and experiencing this story. It won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I saw this piece of classic storytelling in the old west.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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