We live in an age of information overload. Twitter feeds, Instagram stories, Reddit threads, Facebook posts, podcasts, streaming services, text messages, email, etc; they are all coming at us a mile a minute. Though it’s great to be able to do or get almost anything you want with the click of a button, I am often nostalgic for a time period when we were a bit more separate from each other and we all lived more in our own worlds. There was a bit more peace and quiet that came with that, unlike the many modern distractions of today. Don’t get me wrong though, there are of course advantages to all of the advances in technology and it is quite exciting to be living in a time of such great convenience.
‘News of the World’ takes place in a time in American history when the Civil War was coming to an end. Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a retired Civil War officer, he travels by horseback from town to town reading aloud miscellaneous newspaper’s to people in each town. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles. She got the idea from a friend of hers who had a great, great grandfather who did such a thing as traveling from town to town with his newspapers in tow. But in her research she never encountered another person that had done such a practice. So either that newsreader from the old west had an entrepreneurial spirit or Ms. Jiles had encountered a tall tale. But like the great quote from the great filmmaker John Ford—who also made many superb western’s—“When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Tom Hanks is great as always, a legit American treasure, and one of the finest actors to have ever graced the screen. He started out in broad comedy, but since then has done war films, film noir, romantic comedies, travelled to space, became BFF’s with a volleyball, let people know that life was like a box of chocolates, and starred in the first major studio film to have addressed the Aids epidemic. The guy has been in many movies that are considered classics. There is a reason it was a big deal when news broke that Hanks was the first celebrity to have openly admitted to have contracted the coronavirus. Over the years, he has become a bit of a moral compass for society, kind of like how Henry Fonda had done during his heyday. But this is Hanks’ first foray into the Western film genre, a genre that Fonda had established himself in and become synonymous with.
The Western can be a great landscape to insert and discuss modern metaphors. Henry Fonda’s western ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ comes to mind, it mirrored the racial injustice of its day and was a way that people could talk about things without them being too heavy handed. Within the scope of ‘News of the World’ there are a few instances where they try and do a similar thing, but it just comes off as being obvious and preachy instead.
This film reunites Hanks with director Paul Greengrass. They had worked together before on the ocean liner thriller ‘Captain Phillips’. Greengrass who hails from the U.K., had an international breakthrough with his 2002 film ‘Bloody Sunday’ which led him to directing a few of the Jason Bourne films, which I think were some of the best representations of the post 9/11 American psyche. His trademark style is to shoot things in a kinetic docu-drama way, so it’s a bit of surprise to see him play it straight with ‘News of the World’, it would have been interesting to see how he would have applied his signature style to a Western.