Updated: Jul 12, 2021
The movie News of the World delivers a revisionist Western. The term “revisionist” used to mean a project that felt grittier than Roy Rogers singing cowboy songs, but now it refers to politically correct attitudes that defy traditional classics like The Searchers. That John Wayne/ John Ford epic spent decades on lists as the greatest western movie ever made, with gorgeous location shots of Monument Valley standing tall while the epitome of the era's cowboy went searching for a little girl kidnapped by Comanches.
With The Searchers, the era’s racist attitudes predominate for a variety of reasons, making aspects of the film difficult to watch today. In contrast, News of the World features the opposite of a John Wayne cowboy with lead actor Tom Hanks, generally regarded as quote “America’s Dad.” Yes, yes, Hanks voiced the animated cowboy Woody in Toy Story, but his general presence looks more at home in Dockers and a golf shirt than Stetson and boots. Hanks also rises above prejudice, feeling that all skin tones share humanity—not a general thought in the Wild, Wild West.
But News of the World imagines a place where an open-minded former Confederate soldier in Texas enhances his life by using his education and empathy. Hanks plays a man who travels from town to town, charging locals to listen to him reading from newspapers. Along the way, he picks up a young girl who needs to be delivered home after spending years with Kiowa. Okay, Searcher fans: John Wayne played a guy who probably couldn’t read and would just as likely abandon or shoot the girl as take her home.
But America’s Dad Tom Hanks aims to do the right thing and he exudes qualities that make his actions believable. His character falls into some traditional Western activities like a suspenseful gunfight with sleazy bad guys. He crosses beautiful terrain. He does it all under the careful and considerate eye of director Paul Greengrass, who previously joined Hanks for a memorable voyage in the movie Captain Phillips. The reteaming once again works to create a satisfying movie that urges audiences to look beyond expected frailties and find reward in possibilities.