How is Tom Hanks only the 24th most bankable actor in Hollywood these days (according to the Bankability Index Value per Movie for November, 2020)? The two-time Oscar® winner can elevate even the dullest of scripts and turn a mediocre movie into a critical success. His last film, GREYHOUND, was just that. Hanks is back and saving the world again, this time one child at a time, in his first action role set in America’s old West frontier.
In NEWS OF THE WORLD, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of three wars. It’s five years after the end of the American Civil War and Kidd makes his living going from town to town in north Texas reading the regional, national and international news to interested folk who are willing to pitch up a dime each for an evening’s entertainment. While en route to his next gig, he comes across Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel), a fiesty 10-year-old who was taken by the Kiowa people six years earlier after they killed her family. When Kidd realizes that the authorities have no interest in Johanna’s welfare, he takes it upon himself to deliver the child, who remembers nothing of her earlier life or its ways, to her biological aunt and uncle who live near San Antonio, where he comes from. It’s a 400-mile journey through unforgiving territory where bandits run free, water is scarce and the Kiowa lurk in the shadows.
While NEWS OF THE WORLD is sufficiently entertaining and falls squarely in Hanks’ wheelhouse, it’s also rather bland. Directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass (the BOURNE films; CAPTAIN PHILLIPS; UNITED 93) and based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles, the story goes exactly where you think it’s going to go five minutes in. The pair’s journey plays out in an episodic manner with each chapter seeing our hero take on a new challenge, whether it be outsmarting a trio of rough-and-tumble varmints who want Johanna for their own nefarious purposes, surviving a Town Without Pity created by a Colonel Kurtz-type character who would have been unbelievable had we not all witnessed the events at the US Capitol on January 6th, or trying to build an emotional bond with not just a hostile child but one that doesn’t speak your language. For his part, Hanks gives a committed performance, as he always does but, at 64, America’s Dad may just be a bit too old to convincingly play an action hero. No doubt, young Zengel knows exactly who she’s acting opposite and she rises to the challenge. With her ice blue eyes and flaxen hair, she is even more impressive by what she doesn’t say than by what she does. It’s small wonder that the actress was so highly praised for her starring role in 2019 German film, SYSTEMSPRENGER (aka SYSTEM CRASHER). But this is more than just a story of a decent man living in a world of scoundrels who saves a child. Kidd is also saving himself in the process. As we learn, he made a decision in the past that he hasn’t forgiven himself for. Now, with Johanna, he’s not about to make the same mistake twice.
NEWS OF THE WORLD is available now on Netflix. It’s unlikely that Hanks will pick up an Oscar® nomination for this role but, even with its shortcomings, the film is still worth watching. It’s Tom Hanks, after all.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 22nd, 8:30 am HK time!
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