Tom Hanks once again teams up with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengass in one of Netflix’s latest potential Oscar properties, having recently scooped a number of Critics Choice nominations. Hanks, who can once again add another captainancy to his impressive repertoire, swaps the seas of Greyhound and Captain Phillips for the wild west of 1870 Texas. Based on the novel by Paulette Giles, Greengrass and Hanks bring a huge amount of humanity to the lawlessness of this violent era in American history, with an emotional central tale which will surely melt the hardest of hearts.
Ex infantryman Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) earns an honest but lonely living, travelling from town to town captivating the local townsfolk with his regaling of the latest news. However whilst riding through Wichita Falls in Texas, he bumps into a 10-year old orphan who’s been abandoned on the road. He reluctantly agrees to take her under his wing, setting out across the harsh and dangerous plains to bring her to safety, in an attempt to deliver her to her only living relatives; her aunt and uncle. But the journey is a long and treacherous one, and the duo encounter a number of dangers which they’ll need to overcome along the way.
What follows is a somewhat familiar but emotional Western road trip, featuring an unlikely central pairing at the helm. There’s a warm comedy between the accidental pair of travelers, as they try and attempt to overcome the language barrier. Along the way, Jefferson discovers that this young child has encountered more loss than most, having been taken in by the Kiowa people who originally killed her German immigrant parents. With a two hour runtime, there’s a gentle pacing to their 400-mile trek, as Greengrass earnestly takes the time to develop their bond. However there’s also just the right amount of tension and peril thrown into the mix to keep you engaged throughout. Weighty themes such as the effects of grief and the devastating results of war are also explored, with the director painting a dissimilarly divided America.
The slow burn pacing of the expedition is bolstered by the central performances of Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel, who wonderfully animate the growing bond between the pair. Hanks channels his rooting-tooting drawl and leadership qualities of the beloved character Woody for his first proper foray in a Western, (“a little girl is lost, she needs to go home) and as expected, brings a heartfelt and layered performance to the role. Newcomer Zengel portrays the orphan with a flighty, mischievous angle, but certainly counters it well with a haunted sadness. As the journey progresses and the stakes rise, you become more and more invested in their expedition, particularly as the duo discover that they’re not all too dissimilar after all.
Greengrass swaps his signature frenetic, hand held style of shooting with a grander approach, utilising sweeping drone shots and wide angles to highlight the vastness and beauty of the Texan wilderness. There’s also plenty of classic Western spectacle with a number of tense action sequences, particularly in an impressively choreographed cat and mouse shootout. The production value is also outstanding, particularly with the authentic costumes and hair, along with the many remarkable props.
With a heartfelt tale of redemption and acceptance, paired with a breakout performance from Helena Zengel, News of the World is a familiar but sincere Western.
News of the World is out now on Netflix.