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FILM OF THE WEEK News of the World

MARIA DUARTE watches Tom Hanks’s first Western to date, whose social and political subtexts resonate today

News of the World (12A)
Directed by Paul Greengrass

DIRECTOR Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks have reunited for the first time since making Captain Phillips in 2013 to bring this powerful and moving old-fashioned-style Western to the screen, with a social and political subtext which resonates today.

Based on Paulette Jiles’s novel, it follows war veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) as he travels from town to town reading the news from an array of national and foreign newspapers to a paying audience. 

In Texas he crosses paths with Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel from System Crasher), a 10-year-old-girl taken in by the Kiowa tribe six years earlier and raised as their own, who he reluctantly agrees to deliver to her German aunt and uncle — against her will.

What ensues is a prickly and fraught pairing which very slowly develops into mutual trust and friendship over time as they face a myriad of dangers and terrifying challenges on their epic journey.

Despite their differences, they have more in common than they realise: they are homeless, both feel like outsiders and have suffered tremendous trauma — in Johanna’s case losing her biological parents and her adopted Kiowa mother and father. 

The film is set in 1870, five years after the civil war that left the United States divided and struggling to unify — much like the protagonists — which works as a perfect allegory for the current state of the country.

It also examines how settlers killed Native Americans to take their land, the latter murdering settlers and kidnapping their children in return.

Hanks, in parent-mode throughout, delivers another superlative turn in his first Western to date; while Zengel, who was 11 at the time, holds her own opposite the double-Oscar-winning star, giving an extraordinary and nuanced performance.

As Johanna can’t speak English — just Kiowa — Zengel communicates purely through her eyes and body language, showing an impressive emotional range for someone so young.

With its arresting visuals and sweeping landscapes (shot in New Mexico) Greengrass gives you an up-close-and-personal visceral sense of going on such a road trip across the Old West. It is a gritty and compelling Western which is a hard watch at times but it is the growing father daughter dynamic that keeps you invested. 

Available on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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