News of the World: Netflix Film Review

News of the World

I love Tom Hanks – who doesn’t?! – so I happily tuned into News of the World, even though Westerns aren’t my favourite genre, and was rewarded by a heartwarming central relationship and an emotionally affecting ending.

Reuniting with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who has been travelling from town to town reading the news to locals following the end of the Civil War five years before. The year is 1870 and Captain Kidd is setting off from Wichita Falls in Texas following a reading and comes across a hanged man, an overturned wagon and a young blonde-haired girl dressed in Native American clothing who is unable to speak English. He discovers official papers that reveal Johanna (Helena Zengel) is a German orphan who has been living with the Kiowa tribe for the past six years after they killed her family and kidnapped her. She was in the process of being taken back to her aunt and uncle in Castroville, some 400 miles away. After the authorities aren’t much help, Kidd eventually decides to return her himself.

News of the World is basically a story of two people getting from point A to point B and moves along at a slow and leisurely pace. But it’s never boring because I liked watching the Captain and Johanna slowly form a connection and something like a father-daughter bond, despite the language and cultural barriers. Their relationship is the key here and the movie’s greatest strength, but the journey would still be quite dull if there weren’t any hurdles along the way, so thankfully, there are some tense encounters with antagonists to up the thrill factor. The stakes during these moments didn’t feel too high though because, you know, it’s Hanks! He’s got to succeed and save the day! He’s the hero and he really goes above and beyond to protect a child he barely knows, even when his life is in danger and he’d have less stress if he just cut her loose.

Hanks is reliably excellent as the good-natured captain and warm-hearted paternal figure, but the revelation here is Zengel. The 12-year-old German star – who gained notice with her lead performance in 2019 German movie System Crasher – recently earned Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG nominations for her supporting role and it’s easy to see why. She’s a marvel as the fiery Johanna and doesn’t let the side down when paired with a seasoned Hollywood veteran like Hanks. Johanna tends to speak Kiowa first, so Zengel had to grapple with a new language in addition to everything else. She’s a quiet, insular person who keeps speech to a minimum but you know exactly what she’s thinking as her face says it all and her acting in the latter stretch is terrific.

News of the World, written by Greengrass and Luke Davies, has stunning cinematography depicting the dusty Texas plains and a strong central relationship that I cared about. Yes, it’s possibly a bit too slow but your patience will be rewarded with an extremely satisfying emotional payoff at the end. I’ve seen it twice and it’s even better the second time around.

Streaming on Netflix from Wednesday 10th February

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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