News of the World (2020)

News of the World (2020) Cover

News of the World is the new 2020 film from director Paul Greengrass (Bourne, Captain Phillips) that stars Tom Hanks in the lead role. This is a Western/historical drama film, that has managed to accumulate quite the awards steamroll, and is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles. Yet, despite all of the acclaim surrounding this film, I was surprised to find how truly middling it actually is - it's contrived, predictable, and gratingly sentimental. Mostly, Tom Hanks is so-so in the movie, and by the standards of Hanks' filmography, this is easily one of his most tired and bottom-tier performances. With News of the World, it feels almost like director Greengrass is trying to methodically check off all the boxes of a stereotypical Western film, without imbuing any of the real emotion, grit, or dazzle that should come with a well-made film of this genre. More often than not, I found News of the World to be a mostly dishearteningly lackluster feature - one that had more potential, but came off extremely tepid, play-by-numbers and strained.

In terms of performances, Tom Hanks is fairly average in the film, espescially when stacked up against some of his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful roles. Some of this isn't Hanks' fault - the script doesn't necessarily afford his role a lot of emotional weight, and the actor tries to make the most of what he has anyway (it's Tom Hanks; his worst still has standard). Helena Zengel is a good co-star to Hanks, but both of the performers can't really imbue their characters with the necessary depth, in large part due to the flimsy script at the center of the film. 

Given how much awards traction this movie is getting, I'm a bit surprised at how uninspired I found it to be - it's easily one of the flattest Westerns I have seen in a while. The ingredients for a good Western appear to be in here, but director Paul Greengrass crafts the movie with methodical distance and fabricated sentiment, that never pierces the real heart of the characters or narrative. The relationship between Hanks and Zengels' characters in particular also never feels real, despite the best effort of the performers, and it doesn't help that the script of the movie feels disjointed and farcical. Production-wise, too, the movie is somewhat unimpressive - everything feels much smaller scale than it should, and the cinematography from Dariusz Wolski doesn't add much visual elegance. All the efforts to make this a sweet and engrossing Western film are undone by a script that ultimately doesn't have a lot going for it - it tries to tell an emotional story set against the backdrop of a journey amidst the plains of Texas post-Civil War, but never finds the real heart or heft of the narrative. In most places outside of the United States, News of the World is headed to Netflix, which makes sense given that this feels more like a middle-of-the-year streaming release than something that deserves end-of-year awards contention. With this talent in front of and behind the camera, News of the World is a pretty big disappointment. 

Final Verdict:News of the World has the right ingredients for an engrossing Western, but director Paul Greengrass fails to imbue the film with proper heart or heft.