“She doesn’t belong here.”
Opening on an aging man, dressing for what appears to be a nighttime performance, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is every bit a western. Set in Wichita Falls, Texas, 1870, the film tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of three wars who travels from town to town as a non-fiction storyteller.
Greengrass fully embraces the genre, keeping the film in brown, black, and tans as we follow our gentle, kindhearted protagonist through the woods, where he happens upon a young girl, Johanna, scared and alone, scrambling for safety.
Expectantly, Hanks (Kidd) channels all your emotions, generating a feeling of warmth and protection as he ventures to ensure that this woman reaches her family. She, a once Indian captive, is haunted by her past, struggling to make sense of her identity, longing for a place to belong. Their relationship serves as the backbone of the story, though their journey is muddied by an overall lack of direction and purpose.
It should come as no surprise that their trip feels harshly segmented into chapters; it is based on the best selling novel by Paulette Jiles. Much like Captain’s stories, the film is filled to the brim with trials, obstacles, and hardships. One after the next, they work to thwart our duo, sending them on a tangent of misadventures that have little bearing on the story and its inhabitants. Supporting characters come and go with the wind, offering little opportunity for viewers to connect. As a result, the film struggles to ground itself in any sense of time or place, never allowing us to understand their strenuous adventure fully.
At one point, Captain must retreat into the mountains and partake in a shootout with a trio of men who wish to take the girl. Greengrass plays heavily to the genre, pulling influence from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and A Fistful of Dollars. The confrontation is painfully quick but offers up a small glance at what this film could have been. Though laden in kindness and serenity, Captain suffers from a troubled past, one that puts him a mere degree or two away from unwieldy violence.
Like all the film’s conflicts, the jolt of adrenaline felt during that sequence is swiftly dealt with, allowing things to return to their normal, stagnant state. Maybe it’s a representation of the circumstances, combating the occasional high-intensity levels with long, drawn-out treks along a dirt road. Perhaps that was the point. It’s doubtful, but it’s rare for Greengrass to underwhelm in the action department. Contrary to the director’s past work, this film marks a softer approach, one that should have worked but feels underwhelming given its potential.
I am still a bit confused as to the inner workings that resulted in Tom Hanks’ involvement. I am sure the book is excellent and warranted a motion picture adaptation, but News of the World is one of those films where the individual parts prove better than the collective result. It isn’t terrible, and many will likely find it satisfying; however, I expected more, and I feel John Wayne would want the same.