news of the world
As movie fans already know, January is the month where movie studios dump new releases they don’t have much faith in. These usually underperform with critics and audiences (predictably). But to make up for the lack of quality to begin the year, the awards season contenders from November-December are also given wider releases for general audiences.
In the 2020/21 winter season we’re hardly getting either of these options. Yet studios are still finding small ways to drop decent to good films in a temporary, socially-distanced environment. Paul Greengrass’s new Western drama, News of the World, was given a limited theatrical release over Christmas weekend, like any typical Oscars contender. But for people who aren’t near an open theater or might not be comfortable sitting in a public building just yet, it’s already on Amazon Prime Video this week for home viewing.
Set in post-Civil War Texas, Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a former Confederate Infantry captain who now makes a living going town-to-town across the US reading newspapers for 10c a person to anyone interested. One day while en route, Kidd comes across a lost 10-year-old German girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel) who was raised in a Kiowa village. Now orphaned twice over, Kidd takes up the responsibility of taking the girl to an aunt and uncle in Red River, TX.
News of the World co-stars Mare Winningham, Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel in the supporting cast, and reunites Greengrass and Hanks for the first time since their highly acclaimed Captain Phillips (2013). Based on 2016 Paulette Jiles novel of the same name, Greengrass might seem like a peculiar choice for a period piece, as he’s more well known for modern thrillers like the Jason Bourne movies and United 93 (2006). It’s a pleasant surprise to discover News of the World might be his most restrained work as a director, with his recognizable shaky cam style absent for all but two quick shots. The English filmmaker proves he can hold his own outside of the action genre and naturally makes us feel like we’re watching the old West on screen.
Hanks is solid as the star of the story, as expected, but it’s newcomer Zengel who really shines in her Hollywood debut. It’s a testament to her talent that she can capture the viewers’ attention each scene with no English word dialogue, only speaking in German and Kiowa. The theme of journalism in the 1850s is also an interesting, unique theme we don’t see much in this time period in fiction, and comes off refreshing with both Hanks’ performance and Greengrass’ & Luke Davies’ adapted script.
News of the World could have easily been just another generic, basic, Oscar bait. But instead, we get the first high quality feature to ring in the 2021 film season!
Have you seen News of the World yet? Did it live up to the hype for you? Tell us in the comments!
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