By Christian DiMartino
Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is so beautiful that I didn’t care that I didn’t always care. The film recently nabbed 4 Oscar nominations- for Best Sound, Best Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design, and even though it did get some of those nominations over Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, I’d be lying if I told you that these nominations weren’t earned. Greengrass’ film is gorgeous, and its production values are first rate. New of the World also features some pretty strong performances. All of the pieces are there, and the film holds you, but it doesn’t always grip you. Sometimes, a movie is truly meant to be seen in a theatre. News of the World is such a movie, but even despite the moments that grip you, there are still the moments that don’t.
The film marks the re-teaming of Greengrass and Tom Hanks, after their Best Picture nominated Captain Philips (fun fact: neither one of them were nominated for it). Casting Hanks is always a good call- he’s basically America’s sweetheart, and a treasure if there ever was one, not to mention an amazing actor. Hanks is pretty strong here, as he was in Captain Philips (I’ll stand by it, the last five minutes of that movie is some of the best acting he’s ever done). He’s always reliable. Greengrass is capable of being a great filmmaker too (United 93 is a masterpiece, and The Bourne Ultimatum was pretty close). This time they’ve made a decent film, one worthy of its technical Oscar nominations, and a story that is well told, but doesn’t blow you away.
Hanks is the captain now, again, as Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran who now goes from town to town delivering, you guessed it, the news of the world. Along the way he comes across Johanna (newcomer Helena Zengel, a Golden Globe nominee), who was taken by the Kiowa people against her will years prior. Hanks, as you know, has an expertise in playing heroes with good souls (see: Bridge of Spies, Sully, Captain Philips, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, etc.), so he agrees to transport her hundreds of miles in the hopes of finding a place that both of them can call home. It isn’t so simple (well, I guess neither is traveling hundreds of miles) though, as they face grave danger and shootouts and what not.
I rented both News of the World and Let Him Go in the same day, and both worked well as sort of a 2020 western double feature. News of the World is basically a western, and while Hanks doesn’t seem like someone who should be headlining a western, he actually suits the role pretty well. It should also be said that him and Zengel, pretty strong in a breakout performance, work pretty well together.
News of the World does move slowly at times, and there are times where your interest sort of goes in a different direction… but just when it does, Greengrass pulls you back in with some spectacular action sequences. Which, okay, I’ll just come out and say it: the production values of this film are what make this film. It would probably be an okay movie aside from the fact, but with them, it elevates the whole thing. I know it’s silly to go on and on about the look of a movie, but it’s a major factor here. Greengrass’ craftsmanship is good, even when the story might not grip us. Yet the look of this movie… wowsers.
First, that production design… I swear, it almost feels like Greengrass and Co. traveled back in time to film. I recall the late great Roger Ebert’s criticism of Back to the Future Part III, where he docked the film points because it looked too much like a “movie western.” I love Back to the Future Part III, more than most, but he’s not wrong: it looked like a movie western. News of the World looks like the real deal; as authentic as they come. The score from James Newton Howard is great too. But the true star of this film, besides Hanks of course (who doesn’t adore him?) is Dariusz Wolski, the film’s director of photography.
Wow, is this film gorgeous. Wolski, the first-time Oscar nominated cinematographer of films such as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Martian, has accomplished something utterly remarkable here. I chose to rent this film on Blu-ray for an extra 20 cents… worth every cent. Wolski’s work here is reminiscent of some of the photography of Terrence Malick’s films, at times. Yet in an even closer comparison, and this is pretty high praise, it brought Roger Deakins’ work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to mind. Yeah, the film was as ass-numbingly long as its title, but it was an excellent film, and even more so, a visually stunning one. Deakins work in that film ranks among his finest hours; Wolski’s work here is certainly his finest achievement.
Some may adore News of the World. I thought it was decent- its pace could use a change or two. In the looks department though, News of the World is a winner. It isn’t a great film, but it’s a really great looking one, and for today, that will do.