Netflix’s latest dive into the Western genre, sees Tom Hanks wander the land of a post Civil War America as a travelling news reader (look how far we’ve come eh?). The war veteran crosses paths with Johanna (Helena Zengel). A Kiowa raised child who’s found mysteriously alone with no sign of family around. When Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) is instructed to hand the child over to union officials at a local checkpoint, the Indian representative, who would be responsible for such affairs was unavailable. This leaves Kidd and the kid with limited options, and so the honourable war Captain brings it upon himself to deliver young Johanna to whatever family she has left.
We traverse through the 19th century American landscape, with the pair encountering dangers of both the humane and natural causes kind. Travelling hundreds of miles across the harsh plain through some potentially hostile regions, the Captain understands his responsibility of delivering Johanna to the only family she knows.
At this point it’s worth wondering what Tom Hanks has not done in his career. Well as it turns out, not a Western. Sure he’s responsible for voicing our favourite toy cowboy, but that’s ultimately as far as it goes. That is until Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, 22 July) teams up with Captain Tom again (previously working together in Captain Phillips) to adapt Paulette Jiles’ novel of the same name.
Tom Hanks can play the hero role so effortlessly, that is just feels fitting regardless of the scenario or scenery, and in that regard News of the World can do no wrong. He’s certainly been better and he’s had tougher subjects to tackle in his career, but Hanks delivers precisely what is needed to remind us he’s still Hollywood’s perfect, father role model choice.
The movie’s narrative strongly hinges on the father/daughter journey tale. We know this is set shortly after the Civil War was ended and America is in a state of rebuilding, but the movie doesn’t take a great deal of time to exploit this area. It merely uses it as a platform to help demonstrate the character choices and struggles that are present in the movie.
Hanks’ Captain Kidd is an immediately likeable character. Turning such a novelty of an occupation into an endearing and rightfully powerful gesture to restore some faith and sense of wonder into the American public. Typical news stories of war, politics, natural disasters and worldly inventions are told with keen passion allowing his enthusiastic audience to lap up every word. I’d even be willing to let him read such wonderless woes of the world as a bedtime story and I still go to sleep happy.
What this feature lacks though is a deep look into the backstory of the Captain. We know he fought in the war, we know he has a wife, but beyond that it’s rarely explored. We spend most of its runtime understanding the character of Johanna, which is difficult for both us and Kidd given that she only speaks in native Indian tongue.
The pair start their embarkment on rough terms. Johanna is the stubborn child and to her, Captain Kidd is the father figure she doesn’t want or need right now. But they would have to work together in order for greater chances of survival.
In certain moments that survival is tested. As is expected from a Western we do get some classic shoot-ups. One of which uses its terrain and scene building perfectly and remained the highlight of the movie. These moments are sadly too few though as it opts for a much more story driven narrative.
What world building we are introduced to here is great. It feels authentic for its time period and every scene has you looking beyond yonder at the stunning set design. But it often feels missing in the foreground. Honestly this could’ve taken place in a handful of eras and only slight changes would need to be made in order to fit said period.
It runs a little too long and certain segments start to drag as a result of overstaying their welcome. But if a fun, well-made action Western is what you’re looking for, then News of the World should tick enough boxes for you. Add to it an always impressive performance from the wonderful Tom Hanks, and a great accompaniment in the young Helena Zengel and you really see something special here.