April 11, 2021
Box Office $12.6 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language.
Stars Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Bill Camp, Thomas Francis Murphy, Fred Hechinger.
British director Paul Greengrass takes a step back from his political thriller comfort zone with a foray into an iconic American genre, the Western, with News of the World, adapted from the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles.
In his Blu-ray commentary, Greengrass, who co-wrote the screenplay in addition to directing, reveals he was attracted to the project because he wanted to make something with a happier outcome than his usual fare.
The result is a relatively quiet, contemplative journey through an uncertain period of American history.
Tom Hanks delivers his usual solid performance as Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Confederate soldier in the Civil War who, in the film’s setting of 1870, makes a meager living traveling from town to town throughout Texas to inform the residents of world events by reading from the latest newspapers. Kidd injects the readings with a dash of showmanship to hold the attention of the rapt audiences, though occasionally encounters some hostility when he broaches topics the locals aren’t too keen to hear about (not unlike modern cable news).
On one journey through the back roads, he encounters the remnants of an attack on a wagon that has left as the lone survivor a young blond girl named Johanna (newcomer Helena Zengel), whom he learns was the child of German settlers who had been seized years earlier by Kiowa Indians and raised as one of their own, but had been recently re-captured and was being returned to her family. A local Army officer washes his hands of the matter, suggesting Kidd either wait three months to turn her over to a liaison officer, or accompany her himself — a perilous journey back toward Kidd’s hometown of San Antonia through dangerous terrain that has vastly changed since Kidd last made his way through there.
Compounding Kidd’s task is that Johanna knows nothing of white man’s customs and seems prone to run away any chance she gets.
The premise plays a bit like an inverse of “The Searchers,” in which John Wayne’s objective was to track down the white girl raised by Indians. As Kidd tries to teach Johanna about her true heritage, she helps him confront some of the demons of his past that led him to a life on the road, and in their bonding they begin to rediscover their purpose. It’s a bit like the Old West version of “Punky Brewster” (the original 1980s version, not the sappy revival).
News of the World is beautifully shot, the Oscar-nominated cinematography showcasing sprawling landscapes of gorgeous but gritty Texas wilderness. This isn’t the romanticized glamorous Wild West of yore, and the hardships of those trying to tame the land come blaring through the screen.
The News of the World 4K Ultra HD combo pack includes the film on both a 4K and a regular Blu-ray disc, with the same extras on each; the 4K disc offers them in UHD resolution.
In addition to a solo Greengrass commentary that is a good mix of recap and analysis, the disc includes seven deleted scenes running a total of 11 minutes. These offer some interesting character moments, including some backstory about Kidd’s horses.
Also included are four behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about a half-hour in total. The seven-minute “Partners: Tom Hanks & Helena Zengel” focuses on the two main characters, while the seven-and-a-half-minute “Western Action” deals with the challenges of shooting the genre on location. The 11-minute “Paul Greengrass Makes News of the World” is a more generalized look a the making of the movie, covering some of the same ground Greengrass discusses in his commentary. Finally, there’s the four-minute “The Kiowa” featurette that details how modern members of the Kiowa tribe served as consultants on the film to aid the authenticity of the portrayal of the time period and their ancestors.