Tom Hanks In ‘News of the World’ Movie Review: Saving Private Publishers

News of the World closes out the movie year on an exciting and emotional note. Equal parts gritty western and heartwarming redemption tale, Tom Hanks brings the heart in a thrilling frontier story. Many westerns have glorified the exploits of cowboys and sheriffs, but News of the World lets a literate intellectual make his mark on the origins of the country, too.

Tom Hanks reads the ‘News of the World’

In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) is traveling through Texas with his various newspapers. He reads the news of the world to paying audiences at 10 cents a pop. 

Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel
Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel | Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures

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In between cities, Kidd comes across Johanna (Helena Zengel), orphaned in the wilderness. When Kidd brings Johanna to the authorities at the next city, he’s faced with a choice: wait to hand her off to authorized personnel to bring her to her surviving family, or bring her himself. Kidd chooses the latter and continues his news tour on the way to her relatives. 

Paul Greengrass holds ‘News of the World’ together 

The biggest revelation of News of the World is director Paul Greengrass. He actually holds the camera still, or moves it slowly so you can see these western frontiers and landscapes. Greengrass always advocated a handheld camera style, which in his hands meant shakycam and edited incomprehensibly. It frankly ruined the Bourne sequels but he was able to sell some audiences on the notion that it was a gritty documentary aesthetic. 

Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks | Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures

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If you did like his handheld style, it won’t ruin News of the World. If you’ve avoided Greengrass since Bourne then let him win you back. He’s still handheld. It’s not like he locks the camera on a tripod, but he keeps Hanks in frame. You don’t have to be all over the place to be handheld. 

Dramatic news and gunfights

News of the World dramatizes how much we take for granted that we have access to every piece of information instantly at our fingertips. In 1870, it was a big event to have Kidd come to town and read the newspaper. You can see the big crowd reactions over stories of disasters and cheers for the railroad. Texas is mighty riled up over President Grant and ending slavery. 

Kidd and Johanna’s journey is eventful, too. At one point, pursued by men with bad intentions for Joanna, Greengrass builds suspense for the pursuit. Getting the carriage over a rock is a tense buildup. The ensuing shootout is like Unforgiven but ramped up to 2020 intensity. 

News of the World gunfight
Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks | Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures

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Even after that set piece, News of the World remains a harrowing journey fraught with dangers. At one point, Kidd uses news stories to rally a crowd against racist leaders. It’s the only weapon he has. Of course, his relationship with Johanna goes from a burden, to a desire to protect her because it’s the right thing to do, to actual bonding with her. 

All this is to say News of the World is the most exciting endorsement of reading since libraries got celebrities to pose with their favorite books. It’s a western worthy of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone, as Kidd rises to the occasion like Hanks’ greatest everyman heroes.