Calling News of the World a dad movie is being kind of an inappropriate dick to your dad, who is almost certainly too cool to do anything other than doze off during this dry, dust-choked bit of boredom from all involved. This whole endeavor feels as if Tom Hanks woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, realized that voicing Sheriff Woody is the closest he’s come to a Western so far, and decided to force it into existence alongside his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass. Once among the most exciting directors out there, Greengrass is now 0-for-3 on good movies since Phillips, after the ill-advised cash grab of Jason Bourne and the even iller-advised mass-shooting drama 22 July. Similarly, this is Hanks’ second-straight stillborn effort after this summer’s Greyhound. It’s no surprise this is going to Netflix around the rest of the globe.
Hanks plays Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of the Confederacy now roaming the American South in the thick of Reconstruction. (Yes, it’s weird to hear people referring to Hanks as “Kidd” throughout.) Kidd’s post-war occupation is gathering newspapers from large American cities and international editions and reading them aloud for paying audiences. It’s a way to “escape the troubles here for the great progress in our world,” as Kidd says before Greengrass cuts to the downtrodden expression of a Black woman from whom Kidd can only look away. It’s emblematic of the inherently performative endeavor Kidd has undertaken, a relic of wartime with no other trade to ply or skill to showcase.
On his swing through North Texas, Kidd encounters a young girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel). After slaughtering her family and kidnapping her, the Kiowa tribe raised Johanna as one of her own. But a federal mandate dictates that she be repatriated to her relatives, to whom she was on her way when the convoy was attacked. Kidd decides to become her new bodyguard to get her “clear of all this pain and killin’,” and they naturally encounter all the arbitrary antagonisms and timeworn troubles you would expect of a lazily conceived Western.
There are the more scurrilous Confederate veterans who offer to buy Johanna from Kidd for nefarious purposes before they must make a courageous stand against them. The only interesting thing Hanks does in this entire movie is find a gleam in his eye when he’s able to cap someone with ammunition cobbled together from what few precious metals he has. There’s the Searchers shot through the door to prove that yes, Greengrass has seen that movie, too. The score cribs from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at a crucial emotional moment. The visual effects are disgracefully bad, including the dodgiest digital boulder you’ve seen in a mainstream movie in a quarter-century. Neither are we spared a scene where it’s so clearly not Hanks on horseback even filmed from a quarter-mile away. Even the ending is a botch, bypassing an opportunity for Johanna to find her own voice in favor of yet another Hanks glorification.
Snooze of the World is a fine alternate title to which credit is due to MFJ pal Brent Leuthold over at Awake in the Dark. So given how the film tries to forge a friendship between disparate personalities, let’s go instead with Plains, Reins and Wagon Wheels, look forward to Greengrass and Hanks getting their groove back on any future collaborations and hope this is simply an anodyne anomaly.