Like News of the World protagonist Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks), Paul Greengrass has made a career spinning headline news into info-tainment for paying audiences. However, Greengrass’ latest is no meditation on a filmography that includes United 93 and 22 July. In News of the World, the news Kidd delivers is an uncomplicated force for educating and unifying Reconstruction-era America. Nobody asked for a version of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom in cowboy hats, but here it is.

To get a sense of News of the World’s politics: its inciting incidents are the massacre of a Kiowa community and the lynching of a Black man, yet none of the many speaking characters we meet are Native or Black. Greengrass gestures towards the demons of American politics – racism, capitalist exploitation, the ongoing Native genocide – but before he can dig into any one, he drops it and moves onto the next.

The shallowness of the film’s politics is mirrored in its road-movie structure, which fails to include either the exciting episodes or compelling protagonists of a good picaresque. Its best sequence demonstrates its failings: Kidd and his ward (Helena Zengel, System Crasher) escape a desert shootout by outsmarting the baddies in a classic bare-bones Western sequence that would make Budd Boetticher proud. However, said baddies are arbitrary monsters who arrive from nowhere and are never mentioned again, and it’s hard to care for our heroes’ safety when we hardly know them.

Hanks and Zengel give nuanced performances in service of thin material. By the time News of the World is over, your memory of it will already have blown away like so much desert sand. Kidd’s mission to report the news is only inspiring if you think Joan Didion was being upbeat when she declared that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.”



CAST: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon

DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass

WRITERS: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies; Paulette Jiles (based on the novel by)

SYNOPSIS: A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.