News of the World Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

“News from around the world” / News of the World

Genre drama, western
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks (Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd), Helena Zengel (Johanna Leonberger), Neil Sandilands (Wilhelm Leonberger), Chakwudi Iwuji (Charles Edgefield), Thomas Murphy (Merritt Farley), Christopher Hagen (Durand) and others.
Perfect World Pictures Studios, Netflix
Release year 2021
Site IMDb

Most classic and modern westerns are essentially road movies. Heroes, for some good reason or their own folly, go from point A to point B, getting into various troubles along the way, demonstrating true heroism or incredible meanness. News of the World by Paul Greengrass was no exception, which is a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Paulette Giles, published in 2016. At the end of last year, the film had a limited release in the United States, and now appeared on Netflix, which bought the distribution rights.

1870 Texas. The South has not yet moved away from the events of the Civil War. Ordinary people, simple farmers, former soldiers, feel lost, betrayed, abandoned. The federal government is not trusted, the Yankee soldiers patrolling the roads and garrisoned in many cities are frankly hated. For five years after the war, the South lived, in fact, under occupation. Any male southerner could be stopped at any moment by soldiers ready to search him for prohibited weapons (only hunting weapons are allowed), and demand to show an oath of allegiance, a kind of passport substitute for southerners who took part in hostilities.

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Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, now an elderly man who fought on the side of the Confederacy, makes a living by traveling from town to town, reading newspaper news to illiterate or time-starved residents. A sort of visiting CNN of the middle of the XIX century in the person of one person. Such performances do not bring significant income, but this suits the captain, for some reason he does not want to return to his wife in San Antonio, preferring a nomadic life.

And then one day Captain Kidd picks up a ten-year-old girl on the road who does not understand a word of English. The accompanying documents say that she is the daughter of German colonists Johanna Leonberger, who at a very young age, during one of the raids, was kidnapped by the Kiowa Indians. The Indians adopted the girl, but during another clash with the US Army, her adoptive parents were killed and the military, who found the child, decided to send her to the only surviving relatives – her uncle and aunt. But the girl got lost again, and now Captain Kidd agrees to take her to her family.

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This is where the traditional American road movie begins, with all its inherent clichés, conventions and a predictable ending. The girl considers herself a Kiowa, does not remember her real parents, strives to run away, does not want to wear a European dress and is not at all ready for life in a “civilized” society. On the other hand, Captain Kidd does not know how to deal with little girls and does not know how to make a child open up … If you have seen at least a few Hollywood road movies, then you know very well how the relationship between Kidd and young Johanna will develop and how it will end in the end this story.

The analogies that the authors of News of the World draw between the fates of Johanna Leonberger and Captain Kidd also lie on the surface. Both of them are lost in this world, the girl is a stranger among the American settlers, whom she does not understand and whose rules she is not going to follow, and a stranger among the Kiowas, who will no longer accept her back. In doing so, she lost her parents twice, the first time they were killed by Kiowa raiders, the second time by the US military. And, unfortunately, Johanna remembers both events. In the same way, Captain Kidd is a stranger in his own country, occupied by the northerners, but he is also a stranger among the southerners, many of whom are far from the most pleasant people and strive to harm him or the girl who fell under his care. Actually, the need to protect the girl and bring her home becomes the core around which Captain Kidd begins to recreate his personality, accepting what happened to him in the war and accepting its consequences.

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In this regard, News of the World almost completely repeats another film that was released just a couple of weeks ago on the competing Apple TV + service – Palmer directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Justin Timberlake. The protagonist Palmer is released from prison, where he spent a long time, and cannot find himself free. The only thing that makes him gather is a strange little boy, the son of a drug addicted neighbor, whom Palmer, unwittingly, begins to look after. Actually, the plot of News of the World and Palmer are identical, adjusted for the genre and time period, and the films end the same way. Lost people find the meaning of life in helping each other. And this is just one, very recent example, in fact, a lot of films have already been shot on this topic, I think you yourself can easily remember a couple or two.

It is this repetitiveness and predictability that is one of the main problems of News of the World. The second is that there is very little Western in this western. There is only one shootout here, and even then, it does not differ in special dynamism. Yes, the film is not about that at all, but still, in a western you expect some kind of dynamics, but it is completely absent here.

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But everything is fine with acting. And if we had absolutely no doubt about the skill of Tom Hanks, then the young Helena Zengel, who plays the first half of the film almost without words, really impressed us. As are the critics. For this role, the girl has already been nominated for several prestigious awards and I think their number will only grow in the near future.

Is it worth watching News of the World? If you like slow narrative films and good acting, if you like the setting and it’s interesting to look at the US South a few years after the defeat in the war – you most likely will not regret the time spent. If you are looking for a classic western with chases and shootouts, then this is clearly not the movie you are looking for.

Pros: Impressive acting by Tom Hanks and young talent Helena Zengel; an unusual look at the South trying to recover from the events of the American Civil War Cons: Fairly straightforward narrative and predictable ending; this is not the first film with a similar plot. Conclusion:

Despite some straightforwardness and predictability, News of the World is worth watching for the atmosphere and excellent acting work of Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel

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