News of the World – Part Two – Movie Review

(Fire update: Posting too early in the day for official updates, but I’m still in my house and not under any evacuation alerts or orders as of morning of July 22)

Part of the Legends of Western Cinema Week 2021 Party!

News of the World

Released 2020 – run time 1 hour 58 minutes – PG/PG 13 (the most disturbing imagery here for me was that to be had at a bison-processing camp.)

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Written by: Based on the Novel by Paulette Jiles, screenplay by Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies

Starring: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel

Movie Review written June 10th

My Review of the book can be found here in Part One

Viewing Conditions: Good Home Theatre

I wanted to hand the characters flashlights on several occasions.

There seems to be a trend to film night scenes in westerns at night as lit only by period-appropriate lighting – the setting sun, the campfire, if you’re lucky, some lanterns. And I get that some people like the realism, but I always think, especially when it’s an inside scene, that the ‘real’ reason is to save on having to detail a set. I find it frustrating, and particularly when it’s an outdoors night-time scene, difficult to follow what is going on. I have seen dark, more of less naturally-or-historically-appropriately night filming used pretty effectively in other recent films, but really, there is nothing inherently wrong in using modern day for night photography, either, and maybe if they used it here we could have seen more of what was going on at times.

Assuming they wanted us to be able to follow what was going on, of course.

I won’t bother complaining about the general loss of vivid colour inflicted upon us all since the demise of the regular use of actual film stock and the rise of digital photography. I think it bothers me particularly with westerns because the classic colour westerns I grew up watching are generally so… bright and colourful. But I’m not going to get into it here. Nope.

Aside from my pet snobby peeve issues with the way this film was filmed, I enjoyed this movie without finding it to be great.

[Spoilers follow]

There are some changes made to the novel’s plot. A few of them were a bit mystifying – what was wrong with Captain Kidd being paid to transport Johanna, as in the book? There’s a long western genre tradition of heroes sticking to the terms of a contract in the face of long odds. (Because if you give your word, you keep it.) Kidd being paid to transport Johanna provided him an initial motive, and added to the drama of the conclusive decision he makes at the end – but someone decided that for the movie it would be better if he wasn’t being paid – and I guess he’s just doing it because… he’s Tom Hanks, so of course he’s a nice guy? A few other changes were made, it seemed, it order to draw out some of the few small teeth the book had in case they might offend – one scene towards the end of the novel, if I remember correctly, has Kidd and Johanna hiding from Kiowa warriors, in fear – and that it seems, has been replaced by a scene in the movie where there is a dust storm and a much friendlier encounter with Kiowa. (This change also allowed the use of the dust storm special effects department. I don’t remember a dust storm in the book, although maybe it is there too?)

Most of the humour in the book went missing in the film. There are character background and plot details that made sense to me since I’d listened to the book, but I did wonder if they’d make sense to someone watching the film cold. Some of Kidd’s character background was changed for the film, again, for reasons that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. (In the book, he has grown daughters, in the film we are told he has no family. Was this to help ‘explain’ why he’s grown fond of Johanna, because he’s searching to create a family of his own? What, you can’t just like a kid even if you’ve already raised some?)

The film does retain the episodic nature of the book, and contrary to my expectations, does not change the timing of the demise of who I thought of as The Big Bad, nor does it completely bury Captain Kidd’s support of the Confederacy. It does, I think, switch the timing of the ending around a bit, and cuts back on the epilogue, as I did expect. I think, if I were in charge of filming this story (as if) I would have focused it much more tightly on one episode, shortened the film some, of course killed the epilogue entirely, because that’s just the kind of person I am, and hoped to capture some funny lines. (Also, I would have found some film to film with and spared us the too-dark night scenes.)

What we have is a film with Tom Hanks being Tom Hanks Nice Guy while travelling around western land with a little girl. He is occasionally charming, as you expect. I have no problem with this as such, although the “I’m a nice understanding guy” thing is taken maybe a bit too far. I mean, surely an adult would lose their temper with a random kid (or any other travel partner, for that matter) once and a while under these conditions even if they essentially like them.

The film is a bit slow paced, in tune with the mostly gentle pace of the source novel. There are a few credibility issues in one of the action scenes, where it’s just a little bit difficult to believe the reactions of the bad guys, but that’s okay. There is a bit of an intrusion of modern political point making particularly in one sequence, which felt a bit random, but oh well.

This are several set ups (including the setting of the action scene just referred to above) which I felt were purposefully playing homage to western movies of the past. And that’s okay too. My Dad pointed out one shot in particular as an obvious homage to The Searchers. (I haven’t actually seen The Searchers in over a decade, but I’m inclined to believe him.)

In general, this movie is okay. Of the three modern westerns I’ve watched so far this year, I would rank News of the World in the middle. I enjoyed it significantly more than Hostiles (2017) although Hostiles did perhaps elicit more emotional reaction from me (negative, hostile, emotions.) I enjoyed The Sisters Brothers (2018) a bit more. There is a fourth film I’ve watched this year that I am tempted to throw in as a western, Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) – but I’ve yet to find others willing to advance the theory that can by viewed at least in part as a revisionist western.

Note: I have First Cow (2020) on the top of my to-watch pile and intend to see it tomorrow or the next day, but I haven’t seen it yet!

Edited to add: Also note, one of the host’s of this week’s blogathon really liked Hostiles, you can see their review of that film here.

Do i recommend watching News of the World? Sure. Why not? It’s nice. If you don’t think you’ll be able to enjoy The Sisters Brothers, which is not so nice, than see News of the World only. (I do not recommend Hostiles.)

Interestingly, when our hostess Hamlette reviewed the News of the World, she found it to be not kid friendly. I would show it to kids. Not super young kids, but kids who have started grade school.

But… I don’t actually have kids.

You can also read another review of this film released as part of this blogathon, here!

I’m going to give this film 3 stars out of five, although I do feel that some of that is due to it being a western alone, and we that crave westerns, having few major new release options each year, have probably lowered our standards and expectations when we look at new releases versus past films. I suppose we’re meant to be grateful for what we do get. And we are. I am. I wonder if/what the western of 2021 is? I haven’t heard that there is one. What is coming in 2022, then?

P.S. – Don’t forget to enter my giveaway of an e-book! You now have until the end of July 25th to enter.

4 thoughts on “News of the World – Part Two – Movie Review”

  1. […] So the big western movie of 2020 was an adaption of the novel “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles, published in 2016. Ms Jiles has spent considerable time working in Canada, and lives in Texas. Of course I wanted to see the movie (and read the book.) Although it would have been best if I could have seen the movie in theatre, that was not to be. My review of the movie follows this post in Part Two. […]


  2. Horror also suffers from super dark lighting. I sometimes think they’re trying to make everything scarier, and yet in cinema it often just makes the illuminated “exit” signs glow brighter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit — though I agree about struggling to see during some of the night scenes.
    Now you’ve made me want to read the book! It is now on my list to check out from the library (along with a number of others you’ve recommended.)

    Liked by 1 person

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