Released: 28th January
Seen: 12th April
There are films that rely on a great script, films that rely on their visual prowess and then there are films that rely on the talents of a single actor. A star vehicle can come in many forms and many levels of quality, some of the biggest flops of all time have been films that leaned on the talent of a single actor… and then there are the films that rely on a single actor’s charm that actually end up working, such is the case with News Of The World.
News of the World follows former confederate soldier Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) a few years after the civil war. Jefferson has been trying to make a living by going town to town and reading the news to the townsfolk, a simple solitary life but he gets by. One day along his journey he finds a young girl named Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) who is clearly far from home and needing assistance. Since Jefferson can’t find anyone else to take her home, it is up to him to make the journey with her… shenanigans ensue.
This interesting little western is a film that lives or dies purely based on the main performance, and considering the main performance is by Tom Hanks it’s safe to assume that it lives. It feels like the entire film was tailored around Tom’s kind fatherly persona and uses that to help push the main relationship but also to make us instantly root for this man. You want to see him get Johanna home no matter what happens, and boy does a lot happen.
Every few minutes there’s a new obstacle, usually other people who make life difficult for the travelling Newsman and his assistant. The entire film keeps trying to be about stories and the importance of them, how people just want to hear stories about people and places they’ve never been (as evidenced by scenes where Jefferson is ordered to read from a local paper but the locals want to hear about the stories from other places).
The strongest stuff in News Of The World is honestly the few times when they just let Jefferson tell a story to a large crowd. Giving Tom Hanks a lengthy story to tell with all the bombast and passion he can muster is a fascinating thing to witness. He sells every story and milks it for all it’s worth, to the point where you almost forget that there’s a lot of other actors on the screen too, including a very engaging Helena Zengel, who spends most of the film not speaking but still manages to be engaging.
News Of The World does run the risk of potentially getting repetitious, following the pattern of “New town, bad guy would like to do bad things to our main characters, fight bad guy, NEW TOWN” enough times that it could get boring, but somehow it doesn’t. Each of the obstacles that get in our main characters way are interesting enough that you’re never quite sure how they’ll handle it.
News of the World is a genuinely great little film, do not get me wrong on that. It’s a good few hours with a captivating pair of lead performances and an interesting story that manages to keep hold of your attention. It’s not spectacular, this isn’t going to be an all time great (heck, can we point out that it’s nominated for a mess of technical awards and none of the bigger categories?) but it’s an absolutely enjoyable experience which is more than enough.