Trending on Netflix this week is Western drama News of the World, based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles.
News of the World tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a former Confederate solider who travels from town to town reading the news across post-Civil War America. After one of his news readings, Kidd stumbles across a murdered solider and a young girl in Native American clothing. He soon learns that she was being transported to relatives, and reluctantly takes responsibility for the task.
Exploring themes of loss, duty, and mankind’s natural resistance to change, it’s a refreshing take on the Western genre – the usual all-too-frequent gun-play is replaced with beautifully bleak scenic shots, emotive storytelling and a host of interesting characters.
Despite an interesting premise and well-paced story, News of the World rests pretty heavily on the laurels of its star. Hanks brings his patented effortless charisma to his paternal role, and co-star Helena Zengel delivers a brilliant performance as Johanna, a girl taken from her German parents as an infant and raised by Native Americans. The young actor is able to inject the necessary fear, confusion and world-weariness to her role, all without hardly speaking a word.
Although News of the World was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, it was thoroughly predictable throughout. This narrative mediocrity was jarringly at odds with the stars’ solid performances, although that’s ultimately where our criticism for the movie ends.
Don’t let its Western setting throw you off – News of the World is a character story, and in that respect, it’s a movie that achieves exactly what it sets out to. Long before the movie’s end, you’ll find yourself decidedly invested in both Kidd and Johanna, both people who have lost everything to violence and war – although, in spite of this sombre starting note, it’s actually a story of hope.
This somewhat unexpected message results in more than a few truths of the Old West being brushed past or rewritten entirely, specifically the movie’s occasional references to the human trafficking, racism, and slavery that were all too prevalent in the movie’s particular time period and location. Okay, the story isn’t about any of that, but having it so routinely ignored was more than a little insulting.
While News of the World is certainly a good film, it wasn’t one that came without its fair share of dissatisfaction. There’s not a whole lot to criticize, but the sheer predictability of much of the movie’s plot was enough to rob it of any sense of wonder, and that was a genuine shame.
Summary: A retelling of the universal story of a man doing the right thing, News of the World is as entertaining as it is unimaginative.