December 17, 2020

CINEMA | Tom Hanks Spreads the 'News of the World'

"We're all hurtin'."
Tom Hanks Helena Zengel Paul Greengrass | News of the World
Universal Pictures / Playtone
British filmmaker Paul Greengrass and his Captain Phillips star Tom Hanks reteam for a sombre but earnest screen adaptation of author Paulette Jiles' 2016 western novel News of the World. Greengrass' road film opens in 1870 after the repercussions of the American Civil War in a still divided South. It actually feels surprisingly a lot like Cast Away except in the West with an orphaned German girl raised by natives instead of a volleyball.

Hanks portrays a veteran (another captain), Jefferson, who travels from town to town reading the news of the day to local townspeople. He happens upon a young girl, Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel), taken by the Kiowa people years ago. He reluctantly agrees to return the wild child to her only kin, an aunt and uncle she doesn't know (against her will), as they travel hundreds of miles facing grave dangers along the way, both in search of some semblance of a home after experiencing the horrors of war.

News' script, written by Greengrass and Luke Davies, leaves much bare for the two main actors to fill the screen amidst the vast openness of the American West. With shades of other westerns and two-handers about wandering the plains, an older Hanks relays most of the dialogue while trying to tame the girl's ways. A post-Civil War South certainly seemed like a dangerous place for visitors as they methodically make their journey.

News of the World is old-fashioned storytelling with Jefferson's backstory told mostly through his posture, actions, and weary face. Hanks' trademark demeanour does so much to express the simultaneous brokenness and hope of a future America. Greengrass eschews his usual quick-cutting and anxiety-riddled style for another method of intimate filmmaking and understated character study. It expresses a sense of healing for a nation divided.

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