← Back to Reviews

News of the World

News of the World

There is a moment reminiscent of The Revenant's "We Are All Savages," but News of the World's influences, which the film proudly and openly wears like a badge of honor, go back to the John Wayne days of The Searchers and True Grit.

News of the World is great news for western lovers. This film is just bursting at the seams with the Home on the Range-type Scenery Porn that John Ford, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood (and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Costner) have accustomed us to.

It’s all here. The big hard sun, the impossibly blue sky, the monolithic rock formations, the seemingly endless plains, the wind drifting over the dusty roads, the small towns bustling with activity, and of course the inevitable campfire scenes under the stars.

And when I say 'it's all here', I mean it. With the possible exceptions of a huge rolling boulder and a suspicious-looking dust storm (nonetheless impressive in its scale alone), there are no CGI shenanigans in this movie, which was shot on location in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All of this results is an overwhelming sense of authenticity, all the more enveloping because director Paul Greengrass is in no hurry whatsoever, and patiently allows us to absorb the local color during the first half of the story.

The film shifts gears with the sprawling centerpiece, a high-speed chase/cat-and-mouse gunfight up a rocky hill. From that point on the plot ebbs and flows between heart-stopping action and heartwarming introspection — which accordingly brings me to the heart of the movie, the relationship between Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a former member of the Confederate Infantry who now makes a living as a traveling newspaper reader, and Johanna (Helena Zengel), a 10-year-old girl who has been living with the Kiowa people for the past six years.

The latter represents a most valuable narrative commodity: a non-gratuitous Audience Surrogate. Kidd more or less reluctantly agrees to take care of Johanna, who provides him with another set of ears for him to articulate his thoughts out loud; however, since she doesn’t understand a word of English, Kidd can't be said to be merely dumping info on her — in fact, this particular turn of events is both character-driven and plot-relevant because Kidd is only too glad to be able to hear the sound of his voice without having to resort to talking to himself like a crazy person. Moreover, Kidd’s interactions with Johanna, as well as the adventures they encounter along the way, help him evolve from simply parroting the news to becoming a full-fledged raconteur.

Incidentally, Kidd is an unconventional badass in the the film’s Badass and Child Duo; a firm believer that discretion is the best part of valor, the Captain will run from a fight until there’s nowhere else to run — and then it’s ass-kicking time. In a flawlessly smooth example of the aforementioned heart-stopping-to-heartwarming back-and-forth, Kidd’s heroics lead to a moment of supremely moving dramatic irony wherein Johanna improvises a song, in the Kiowa language, singing his praises — that’s just damned good stuff right there.