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  News of the World Under Texan Skies
Year: 2020
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Bill Camp, Michael Angelo Covino, Elizabeth Marvel, Fred Hechinger, Neil Sandilands, Winsome Brown, Tom Astor, Gabriel Ebert, Clint Obenchain, Thomas Francis Murphy, Darrin Giossi, Andy Kastelic
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1870, Texas, and post-Civil War the resentments are high. But for Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks), who was on the losing side, he has decided that unity is better for his nation than to see it torn apart by prejudice, so to do his part he has taken it upon himself to get a job as a travelling newsreader. He has a collection of newspapers that he reads from to paying audiences who wish to keep up to date with current events, and as many of them cannot read themselves, Kidd is supplying a useful service, making a living as he does so. However, one day he is riding in his wagon to his latest destination when he sees a crashed cart up ahead, and worse than that, a lynched man hanging from a tree...

Director Paul Greengrass had always wanted to make a Western, he was of the right age to remember their popularity as a youngster, though this would be as the genre was on the wane; there were still some fairly decent hits, however, and television was keen on them with shows like Bonanza and The High Chaparral doing good business across the world. Yet with his usual stomping ground of socially conscious movies, you might expect he would have created something more engaged than News of the World, what with its title lifted from one of the worst British tabloids and the potential for commentary on how the public takes news it does not want to hear, i.e. ignoring it.

Though there was a smattering of satirical intent at Kidd's readings, with the complaints from the racist Texans in the first few minutes reminiscent of the below the line comments from the most reactionary websites' commentariat, this adaptation of a Paulette Jiles novel was more interested in the relationship that builds between this well-meaning but somewhat defeated soul and the little girl he meets near the wreckage of that cart. She was Johanna, played by Helena Zengel who had impressed all who saw her in German drama System Crasher, so there was additional interest to find out if that previous role had been a one-off, or whether she could sustain a career on that level.

Happily, there was nothing wrong with Zengel's acting, and if anything, this would have introduced her to a different audience; she and Hanks had a neat rapport given her character speaks in a Native American language for what little dialogue she had, for it turns out Johanna was being taken to an aunt after she had been rescued from the tribe who murdered her parents and adopted her themselves. With her white-blonde hair and pale complexion, she stood out among anyone she happened to share the screen with, and Hanks' fatherly interpretation of his role generated some sympathy for them both, as they have each lost people close to them in acts of violence, Kidd being a widower thanks to the war. Thus, with the Captain entrusted with returning Johanna to the bosom of her family, a road movie ensued.

Naturally, this was going to be an episodic yarn, and perhaps the novel origins showed a little too clearly as it unfolded. It was also not as action-packed as a Greengrass movie might ordinarily be, the only real setpiece in that vein an extended sequence where Kidd has to save Johanna from sex traffickers by getting into a shootout with them in rough terrain, though there were bursts of activity every so often. Mostly it made its way with deliberate pace to emphasise the vast landscape of North America, which lent it a sense of place, but tended to drain much of the potential for excitement. It was a film with decent, noble intentions much like its hero, but that's not always enough to create tension, so its strongest suit was the bond that developed between grizzled but nice Hanks and rebellious but vulnerable Zengel, and to be fair that went some way to sustaining it for the full two hours, even if it did seem to drag on far past the point that it should have been wrapping things up. Mid-pace, mid-level entertainment. Music by James Newton Howard.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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