News of the World: Tom Hanks' first western is a leasurely rollercoaster ride


Netflix's post-American civil war movie gracefully guides us across the savage and unrelenting plains of Texas. It stars Tom Hanks as an ex-confederate news reader on a quest across the new frontier to escort a young girl back to her family and it's pretty damn good... once you can get into it.

It's a Western/Drama based on Paulette Jiles's 2016 novel of the same name about the equivalent of a news anchor in the 1800s (Captain Jefferson Kidd) who must return a young girl to her family, stolen by the Kiowa people. Directed by Paul Greengrass, spearhead of the Bourne franchise and 2013's pirate thriller Captain Phillips, News of the World is a continuation of his love for unyielding tension and empathetic characters.

I’m a huge fan of Westerns, but News of the World isn't exactly reinvigorating the genre in any profound way. Here Greengrass actually proves how drab and dated it can all feel at times. That's mostly because it takes a little while to connect to or get going in any way.

It ambles to a start and initially fills you in on a premise you don't necessarily need much backstory to, giving us historical context and an overly long first act of Captain Kidd... reading the news. But as any good friend would tell you on a trip to the local pool, it’s alright once you’re in.

Tom Hanks is of course fantastic, carrying us through the start in the first Western role of his career. But as you can imagine he’s not quite the Clint Eastwood type. Instead he’s a relatable father figure, a leader-of-men and the sympathetic everyman character that appears extremely comfortable to Hanks at this point.

Watching Tom Hanks protect a young child with his life for two hours is a well executed premise and, playing an ex-confederate army captain, Kidd knows a trick or two.

His character's relationship to Johanna is something akin to the central characters of True Grit or even Monsters Inc. They share a familial kind of love, one that blossoms throughout the course of the movie. They find it hard to get along at first thanks to age and language barriers but their relationship blossoms very naturally over the course of the film and child actor Helena Zengel does a great job of pulling that off alongside Hanks.

Once you reach the 40 minute mark and get past its meandering opening, you realise that News of the World has a bit of everything to offer that you’d come to expect from any good Western. In fact, it's great to look at. The awesome setting and sweeping shots of the Texas landscape lend a helping hand to how the movie really picks up in pace and rhythm.

It completely shifts from an ambling drama about a man who is reading the news about post-war America, struggling over whether to take this young girl home. Once these characters set off, it becomes an odyssey of survival and an emotional journey that explores Kidd's relatable paternal instinct to protect this child from whatever harm may befall her.

That includes a shootout or two. It just wouldn’t be a western without a tense or edgy stand-off of some kind would it? News of the World definitely meets that mark with one of the best scenes I've watched this year. It's proper edge of your seat stuff, to be expected courtesy of the Captain Phillips director.

So... Any Good? It’s definitely no Django, but Tom Hanks ensures it's a Western worth your patience

News of the World is now available on Netflix