REVIEW: NEWS OF THE WORLD delivers an engaging journey of discovery in Tom Hanks’ first outing in a western.


Director Paul Greengrass transports us in this character piece to the recently post-Civil War United States and one man’s journey to find his place in it.

The amazing thing about film and art is its ability to take what has passed and make it new again. The Western genre, long the showcase of battles of cowboys and Indians and old gunsmiths trying to make the wrong things right, has often been reinvented for a new age. From its transition to the new frontier of space to become science fiction, to the throwback wave of the early 2000s where it became a hybrid in the world of Steampunk; the western has always allowed a window into a character’s soul as they strike out to make something for themselves in a new world. Paul Greengrass taps into this energy in News of the World, opening Christmas Day, by transporting the viewer to Texas after the Union has won the Civil War. A time where the country is bitterly divided into two halves and neither really sees the merit of the other; a view perhaps not that different from the world of 2020. In this milieu, we meet Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a former Confederate captain who has lost his way following the death of his wife and the loss of his printing business after the War. News of the World fixes us on a journey to help Kid find himself, but also to help him deliver a young girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young girl raised by Kiowa Indians after they slaughtered her family to the only family she has left. For both, it is a journey of discovery to find a place where they belong after having lost everything they have ever known.

Hanks’ Kidd is a storyteller of sorts; he journeys from town to town earning money by reading news from around the country to coalminers and tavern dwellers alike who also seek escape from the drudgery of their day-to-day lives. Kidd is the closest thing to a window to another world for many of these men, who are planted by poverty and circumstance into a life of perpetual routine until the day they die. He tells stories of President Grant’s overtures to allow Texas to rejoin the Union, to amazing tales of supposedly dead and buried men raised up by a lucky accident at a nearby wedding. Hanks empowers Kid with great power here to join these disconnected men with the great world outside their sphere, even if they laugh or rage at the news he brings them; he is connecting them much the way that the Union Pacific railroad will connect the country before too long.

But Hanks’ performance isn’t the only one that captures you in this film. Zengel’s Johanna is a girl torn between two cultures and with a home in neither. She doesn’t speak English, so she and Kid struggle to communicate after he comes across her and tries to help her find her family. When circumstances place her in his charge, she still rebels and tries to find her home with a migrating Kiowa tribe that she sees as her own but that does not see her in one of the films’ strongest scenes. Their relationship grows as they travel throughout the film and fight elements and the danger of the open frontier, as a true bond forms between the two. It’s a device we’ve seen in many classic westerns from True Grit to Rooster Cogburn, to even recently in Logan and The Mandolorian; but here it feels organic and earned. In the end, the family and home that the two long for might just be in each other.

Greengrass is very skilled in making these cases of extraordinary circumstances seem grounded in real, much as in his last outing with Hanks against Somalian Pirates in Captain Phillips. The film has a sweeping sense of scope in its cinematography and feels like a true Western and a portrait of a time gone by that is not that divorced from where we are as a country. It’s timely and asks the audience to search their soul and realize there is always a bigger picture beyond the now. We can all come together as a community as long as we recognize the personal bonds between us that bring us together above all else