A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home. (from IMDb)
News of the World is the latest drama from Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks. Following his AppleTV+ exclusive action/suspense drama Greyhound, News of the World is more so on the opposite side of the spectrum. Aside from a few tense scenes, News of the World celebrates the slower-paced times in America’s long, tumultuous history. The story follows a Civil War captain, named Captain Jefferson Kidd, who has spent his post-war years traveling from town to town to read the news. However, in his most recent trek, he stumbles upon an overturned wagon, its murdered driver, and a young orphaned girl hiding in the wreckage. The bulk of the story is this former captain’s journey to deliver the girl to some distant relatives. Instead of director Paul Greengrass’s action-packed Jason Bourne sequel outings, or even his previous collaboration with Hanks for Captain Phillips, News of the World takes its time to tell the tale and focus on the characters. It ends up being a more intimate story, but one that will leave those who are easily bored by slower dramas squirming in their seats.
News of the World works mostly because of its players and production value. Tom Hanks is always reliable as an actor (although I first became a fan of his from his more spastic comedic performances in Turner & Hooch, Joe Versus the Volcano and Toy Story), and he does a stellar job here giving us a dramatic and likeable performance. He’s more subdued and reserved than charming, but he still draws the viewer in with ease. Newcomer Helena Zengel, who plays the young girl Captain Kidd rescues, Johanna, is unusual at first glance, but she delivers an impressive performance, and the chemistry between her and Hanks becomes undeniable. Still, there’s an overall dryness to both characters that adds to the slow feeling the movie has. I wouldn’t say the film meanders by any means, but it certainly takes its time to play out. Greengrass does offer a couple nail-biter moments, though, when Kidd and Johanna run into some trouble during the journey. They’re the movie’s most exciting moments for sure, but they’re not what this movie is about. The action sequences (which are also not in anyway fast-paced either) serve the story and characters more than just exist to entertain and thrill.
The content of News of the World is definitely of the PG-13 variety. There is one really gruesome moment where the main characters ride into a town where skinned and bloodied buffalo litter a field, but aside from that, most of the violence is relatively brief. A couple scenes show characters being shot, and most of those instances show them being shot at a distance or in the dark of night with quick bursts of blood that is more subtle than excessive. Language is mostly infrequent with a couple uses of the “S” word and a few uses of “g*dd*mn,” among a few other cuss words. Lastly, there’s a scene that seems to imply that two unmarried characters have just slept together, but it isn’t clear (and at this point, we think at least one of them is still in a married relationship at this point in the movie, but we later learn their spouse has died some years before). Thematically, the story involves death and loss, especially in the twice-orphaned child Johanna, as well as a war veteran who is coping with his own loss. There are a fair share of evil and desperate men who spring up throughout the story, too, who want to either hurt or kill the main characters. Overall, the movie is hardly a light one, but it isn’t without its merits.
I just have to say that the movie is also really beautiful to look at. I didn’t know till I was nearly finished writing this review that it was nominated for an Oscar for its cinematography, and – truly – it deserves it. Part of what makes this movie so good is how fantastic the visuals are — which are mostly just God’s great creation being filmed with a keen eye. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it takes home the Academy Award for its cinematography.
Kidd proves to be a pretty good man, although he certainly isn’t perfect. His compassion for Johanna is sweet, and his sacrifices for her are especially admirable. There’s a moment where Kidd reflects on the troubles in his life and he feels as though God has cursed him. But he seems to come to the realization soon after that he’s been given a great gift by having Johanna in his life, and that helps redeem all of his heartache and troubles in the film. Also, the movie seems to be pretty appropriate to be released during the crazy times we’re currently living in. Captain Kidd’s job is to bring some good news to a hurting world that needs to hear it, and this movie seems to do that, too.
Overall, News of the World is a solid period drama that certainly isn’t for everyone, but is likely to be most appreciated by fans of Hanks and good western dramas.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/22/21)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
News of the World is available on 4K UHD, Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital. We were given a 4K UHD digital copy to review and it was certainly a lovely UHD presentation.
Along with a Feature Commentary are the following iTunes Extras:
Deleted Scenes (11:17) – The Deleted Scenes are lumped together in one montage of scenes. It opens with Kidd inviting Johanna to ride on his horse with him and her ignoring him. The next scene shows Kidd reading his news while Johanna tends to the horses and sings. In the third scene, Johanna unties their horse from the wagon and starts riding it, which leads Kidd to start trying to teach some English to her (like “horse” and “wagon”). Next is a scene where Kidd is getting water from a lake in the dark when a raft full of African Americans floats by and one of them pulls a gun on him. It’s a wonderful scene and I’m not quite sure why it was cut. The following scene shows Mrs. Gannett introducing Johanna to a bed to sleep in, but Johanna throws a fit and refuses. Mrs. Gannett tries to consoler her, while Kidd is left confused. (1 “Dear G-d,” 1 “J-sus”) The sixth scene shows Kidd hanging a sign in town to promote his news reading, when he spots a war vet playing a horn in the street. Johanna then briefly helps him prepare before he goes on stage that night. Lastly, the two share a nice moment chatting while riding the wagon after their shootout on the mountain. The two get playful, which probably would have been a nice moment to keep in, given how serious everything otherwise is.
Partners: Tom Hanks & Helena Zengel (7:03) – Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks talk about his performance of Captain Kidd, and then they all talk about Helena and her powerful performance as Johanna. There is some wonderful behind-the-scenes footage and it’s a delight to hear Tom talk about his challenges making the movie and how much he enjoyed working with Helena. (1 “d*mn” from the movie)
Western Action (7:38) focuses on the action and stunts in the film — from filming on a rocky cliff to creating a dust storm. They also talk about Tom’s dedication and training for the film. (1 “g*dd*mn” from the movie)
Paul Greengrass Makes NEWS OF THE WORLD (11:00) – The theme of redemption really attracted Paul to the story. Here, they cover the various locations of filming, utilizing some digital effects, and trying to capture the old western look and feel. They also talk about the film’s score from James Newton Howard, and we hear directly from the artist himself. (1 “d*mn” from the movie)
The Kiowa (3:58) – Tom and Paul talk about the Native American tribes, specifically The Kiowa. The tribe also worked closely with the filmmakers, especially in training Helena how to act like one of them. They even taught her how to speak the language and sing their songs for the movie!
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/22/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Mrs. Gannett and Jefferson share a look and the next scene shows her lying in bed in her nightgown looking at Jefferson who’s sitting at a desk looking at the news. She comments to him about him being restless (It’s kind of implied they slept together.); Three men offer to buy Johanna for unspecified reasons. They then pursue Jeffereson and Johanna.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “S” Words, 4 “g*dd*mn,” 6 “d*mn,” 4 “h*ll,” 1 “Dear G-d,” 1 “My G-d,” 1 “p*ss”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see people drinking in a saloon; People in a town are shown drinking and appear to be somewhat drunk.
Blood/Gore: We see a couple scars on Jefferson’s back as he pulls a shirt on; Jefferson finds an overturned wagon that has been smashed and bloodstains on the ground; We see an African American man hanging dead in a tree with a racial sign stuck to his shirt. We see his bare feet and body, but part of the tree blocks his face from view; Jefferson has a little blood on the side of his head after his hat is shot off; We see a brief cloud of blood when a man is shot with shotgun shells; We see many skinned and bloody buffalo in a field; Jefferson looks at a newsletter that has some illustrations in it. One of them appears to be a man holding an Indian’s scalp; In the dark, we see a spray of blood when a man is shoot; Jefferson has some blood on his mouth after being punched and kicked; We see dark splattered stains on the walls and bed sheets in a long abandoned cabin; We see some blood stains on Johanna’s socks.
Violence: We see a couple scars on Jefferson’s back as he pulls a shirt on; Jefferson finds an overturned wagon that has been smashed and bloodstains on the ground; We see an African American man hanging dead in a tree with a racial sign stuck to his shirt. We see his bare feet and body, but part of the tree blocks his face from view; Jefferson chases after Johanna and struggles with her. She bites his hand; We see Johanna screaming and struggling with a woman who is just trying to help her; Jefferson shoves a creep against a wall after he offers to buy the child; Three men pursue and shoot at Jefferson and Johanna. Jefferson has a little blood on the side of his head after his hat is shot off. Jefferson shoots at the men and they shoot back. Johanna and Jefferson push a boulder down off the cliff, startling the men, so he shoots one of them, knocking him down. Johanna loads a couple shotgun shells with coins and Jefferson shoots and kills another man with it. The last man then pursues them into a cluster of large rocks. Jefferson draws his attention and shoots and kills him; Jefferson looks at a newsletter that has some illustrations in it. One of them appears to be a man holding an Indian’s scalp; A brawl breaks out in an oppressed town and Jefferson slips out of the crowd with Johanna. They’re then cornered by a couple men who threaten Jefferson. The punch and kick him a couple times (we see blood on his mouth). Johanna shoots a man in the dark and we see a spray of blood. Another man goes to shoot them but a young man saves them by shooting that attacker. The young man then stands over the main bad guy and shoots him again (off screen), presumably killing him; We see dark splattered stains on the walls and bed sheets in a long abandoned cabin; A wagon speeds out of control and crashes. Johanna and Jefferson jump off. A horse is injured in the process, so Jefferson has to shoot it (off screen); They get caught in dust storm and are pummeled by the winds and dirt; A girl is shown tied to a pole. A man unties her to free her.