I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here

I finally caught up with what might be the highest profile Western of recent years, mostly because a movie star like Tom Hanks has not led a film in this genre since Denzel’s The Magnificent Seven remake. Therefore, News of the World comes with some high expectations. And it isn’t only because of Hanks (in his first and probably only Western) but also because of director at the helm. Though I have mixed feelings about the previous films from Paul Greengrass, he has shown through the Bourne films and realistic thrillers like Captain Phillips that he has a distinct style which makes him an unlikely and yet compelling choice for this material. All that being said, it is not so much that News of the World is a bad film but it is certainly one that fails to live up to its potential.

Starting with a unique premise and the kind of protagonist we don’t often see in Westerns, the movie shows a lot of promise early on. However, once the narrative gets going and the journey begins between Hanks and his little co-star, we’re led into a series of unexciting episodes. Even a violent standoff in the first half of the picture is ruined by the most ridiculous CGI boulder being pushed off a ledge by the heroic pair. Somehow, as they face danger after danger, I felt very little sympathy for these two or suspense during their adventures. Events unfold but the director and actors are never able to find much depth or emotion with the script they were given so everything feels hollow.

Speaking of the director, Greengrass makes an odd choice here. Instead of relying on his usual style, he changes pace completely and makes a straight-forward traditional Hollywood movie. It has none of his raw, handheld stamp. If the credits had read “Directed by Ron Howard” instead, I wouldn’t have questioned it for a second and ironically, the run-of-the-mill Howard might have done a better job. I don’t know if Greengrass was trying to prove something but it’s a major miscalculation as the film needed something, anything to give it more purpose for existing.

Again, it’s not a bad film but it’s incredibly bland and unremarkable. In the end, when I should have been in tears, I was checking my text messages.

Watched on HBO Max.