Review by Sean Boelman
The Western drama News of the World features the reunion of director-actor duo Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks, who last worked together on the magnificent Captain Phillips. Yet despite some great visuals and a decent Hanks performance, the film is almost excruciatingly dull because of a generic script.
The movie follows a former Civil War captain who travels the country reading the news to illiterate crowds as he is tasked with escorting a young girl to her family over a journey of hundreds of miles. It’s a pretty simple set-up for the genre, like True Grit without the added conflict of a mystery, and so it ends up feeling blandly traditional and familiar.
There are some moments in which the greater purpose to which the film is aspiring becomes clear, such as one in which he encounters a corrupt businessman turned lawman who is trying to force the people of his town into compliance. But more often than not, Greengrass and co-writer Luke Davies seem content with just being a standard Western.
At nearly two hours long, the movie feels like it outstayed its welcome. Unlike a lot of book-to-screen adaptations, it seems as if the writers adapted a lot of the material as-is. However, some of the more intimate moments simply don’t work in the type of Western epic that this film is obviously trying to be.
The attempts to give the protagonist a backstory have little to no effect. The audience will relate to him thanks to Hanks’s natural charisma, and because of a bit of sympathy for his altruism, but the character doesn’t have a particularly deep arc. As for his young companion, she is annoying more often than not.
Hanks does a great job with the material that he is given, but even he can only elevate the movie so far. When he is given the chance to do a monologue reading the headlines of the post-war West, he absolutely commands the screen. In other parts, Hanks is the only person adding any element of emotion to the scene.
Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is absolutely the highlight of the film. It’s gorgeous when it takes advantage of the beautiful landscapes of the West, but in the few action sequences, it also does a great job. Admittedly, it can become a bit difficult to see in the scenes set at night, as they are largely lit by oil light, but apart from that, it’s visually magnificent.
Basically all of the problems with News of the World come down to the script. The talent is in place in front of and behind the camera for it to be a success, but the story simply isn’t compelling enough to make for a cinematic Western.
News of the World opens in theaters on December 25.