Editor’s notes: Enjoy this spoiler-free review of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. It boasts two nominations at the Golden Globes for original score and best actress in a supporting role. The Golden Globes will take place on 1st of March, 2:00 AM MET.
Paul Greengrass, multi-award winning veteran director of the Jason Bourne movies, has unsurprisingly taken a milder, warmer turn in his latest addition to his film oeuvre. His latest movie, News of the World, is testament to the direction his usually frenetic, high-tension filmography is headed. Starring Tom Hanks, the quintessential kind, avuncular character actor, and award winning German child actress, Helena Zengel, the movie sequesters a period of American history and tells its news in the most heart-warming manner it can be rendered.
Captain Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a war veteran suffering from the consequences of the civil war. He has no home he wishes to return to and he looks to spend his days wandering through American states, reading selected articles of the news to its inhabitants. While on one of such journeys, he stumbles on the hanged corpse of a black man in Texas. He soon finds the remains of a convoy around and a young girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who cannot speak English and has been left behind. After a series of failed attempts to have authorities return her to her family, Captain Jefferson decides to return her to her distant relatives in Castroville. What they both discover about each other; individually, within themselves; about the world around them recovering from the consequences of the American civil war; and finally, about humanity, is the essence of this heart-warming movie.
Tom Hanks shines in this role because, well, he is Tom Hanks in a role that demands a guiding kindness with a hint of deliberate blind naivety to the workings of the world (See Forest Gump and Saving Private Ryan). His calm, reflective take on the character portrays a deeply troubled man who will take whatever kindness the world gives to him, but is willing to give such kindness even if it isn’t promised to him. The movie is a testament to Hanks’ mastery of the craft, and his ability to do so much while appearing to do nothing. Yet, in spite of Hanks’ brilliance, Helena Zengel is the revelation.
As the little child damsel in distress who is to be saved by the genial from the badness of the world, it would have been too easy, and thus, forgivable, for Helena to interpret this role with puerile breakability. But while given little to do, since her character and Tom Hanks’ speak different languages and must find other means to communicate, like Tom Hanks, she does a lot portraying her emotions quietly and eschews the temptation to let Tom Hanks permanently take the lead―they both share this duty. However, she supersedes Hanks with the sharp edge she brings to her depiction, and, also, with the novelty of newness. Helena Zengel is a beauty to watch. It is a marvel how she manages to portray a child who has seen so much, and by consequence, has been forced into maturity, but still maintains that guileless, unprovoked innocence all children never truly lose.
The movie closes with Captain Jefferson Kidd returning home to face his demons. Then he continues into the country with Johanna, state by state, to bring them the news. But this time, he has a feisty, lively assistant. The movie succeeds at depicting its heart-warming core but there is a looking-away aura to it as a whole. We do not dwell too much on the racism it introduces its inciting incident with; we do not explore the Indo-Mexican oppression it registers; or the lingering American divide consequential of the erstwhile civil war. While News of the World feels fresh, thanks to the gritty Helena Zengel, its lack of adventure leaves the movie in a predictable realm, or, in other words, with no news at all.
- Tom Hanks is outstanding in this movie. The camera rarely ever leaves him and it is as if he courts it without actually calling to it. Unlike his older movies, Hanks is finally the age of the attributes he espouses. This movie is the apotheosis of such performances.
- Helena Zengel, young, feisty, yet always in control. Those who have seen her in the Netflix movie, System Crasher, would not be too surprised by her performance here which earned her a Golden Globes nomination. But there is something reserved here, perhaps due to who she plays alongside with or just natura, personal growth. Whatever it is, Helena has the potential to be amongst the greats.
News of the World is currently streaming on Netflix outside the United States and China.