At some point, there’s going to be a really good film made about the mid-noughties phone-hacking scandal. It’ll be gripping, fast-paced, full of dirty deeds and secrets swept under the rug. It’ll probably have Mark Ruffalo or Gary Oldman in it. News Of The World, starring Tom Hanks as a civil war veteran, is not that film – but it’s still a decent watch.
Set in the late 19th century, it follows Captain Kidd (Hanks), who has put away his pistols and decided to spend his retirement less violently. He travels around America with a bundle of papers, reading the news for loose change. It’s not a glamorous job, but in a world where print media isn’t widespread and misinformation is rife (imagine that?) it’s a very important one.
Later, Kidd is riding through some creepy woods in a dicey part of the country when he comes across a lynched chauffeur and his overturned carriage. Inside, he finds a frightened young girl called Johanna. Raised by the Kiowa tribe following the death of her parents, the native German was being taken to relatives down south after she watched her adopted people massacred by Europeans. Kidd is sympathetic, but he doesn’t have time to watch over a badly-behaved child. That is, of course, until he realises she has literally no one else – and volunteers to travel hundreds of miles, facing grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.
It’s a decision you’d like to think Tom Hanks, the nicest man in Hollywood, would also come to – which makes the story easier to believe. There are few comforts in our post-COVID world, but knowing America’s grandpa will always do the right thing is certainly one of them. Hobbling and weather-beaten, Kidd is like a softer version of Rooster Cogburn from True Grit – but with the dodgy aim of a Stormtrooper (in the inevitable shootout, Hanks’ stoic hero must use brains, not brawn, to outwit the bandits). Paired with newcomer Helena Zengel (this week nominated for a Golden Globe), they make a heartwarming odd couple.
Cast aside, director Paul Greengrass has given News Of The World a sumptuous Western aesthetic. Shot in New Mexico, the film is stuffed with gorgeous desert panoramas that take in every bit of the region’s natural beauty. Considering many of us will end up watching in our pants on the sofa, the grandness of scale should feel even bigger – like stepping out of a space shuttle onto the desolate lunar surface.
Though a lot of the movie is just walking and talking, riding and talking or just sitting and talking, News Of The World never feels boring. And when the action scenes do finally roll around, they’re more impactful for it. Greengrass is known for meticulously building tension in heart-stopping thrillers like Captain Phillips and The Bourne Supremacy, and here he delivers more of the same. His latest might not be as scandalous as its tabloid namesake – but it’s far more worthy of your time.
- Director: Paul Greengrass
- Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel
- Release date: February 10 (Netflix)