We haven’t seen many Westerns from Hollywood in the last decade or so.
Those days of the singing cowboy (Roy and Gene in B-movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s) faded away, replaced by more dramatic post-war Westerns (“Red River,” “Shane,” “High Noon,” et al.). In the late ‘50s, cowboys moseyed over to television (”Maverick,” “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide). Spaghetti Westerns emerged in the mid-‘60s (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “They Call Me Trinity,” “Django”). Clint Eastwood held down the fort throughout the ‘80s, then reinvented the Western in 1992 with “Unforgiven.”
Sure, there have been occasional forays into the genre in recent years. The “True Grit” redo was good, the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” held up well, and Tarantino’s retro “Django Unchained” was interesting. But entries like “Cowboys & Aliens,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West” fell short.
These newer movies are at best ghosts of what the Western once meant to Hollywood and the moviegoing public.
Who has the clout to resurrect the genre?
Clint Eastwood is too old. Charles Bronson is dead. Gene Hackman is retired.
Say, how about Tom Hanks?
I know, I know, Hanks is not the cowboy type. Starting out on TV in women’s clothing (“Bosom Buddies”) he carved out a good-guy movie persona with such classics as “A League of Their Own,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Apollo 13,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and about a zillion other feel-good films.
Over the years he’s entertained kids as Woody in those multiple “Toy Story” animations and took them on a Christmas ride with “The Polar Express.”
But why never a Western?
After all, Tom Hanks can play anyone – from a kid in “Big” to a slow-witted but kind-hearted “Forrest Gump” … from Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” to Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” … even Captain Chesley Sullenberger in “Sully.”
So why not a cowboy …?
Well, you got your Christmas present with “News of the World,” a throwback, big-scale Western starring Tom Hanks. You can catch it at Tropic Cinema and other movie houses, as well as on streaming video platforms.
In it, he plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who sets out to return a young girl stolen as an infant by the Kiowa to her family.
Easier said than done.
Especially in 1870 Texas. With lawless towns, marauding Indians, child traffickers, and wild-and-wooly cowboys.
“News of the World” is based on a 2016 same-named book by Paulette Jiles. The title comes from Captain Kidd’s job as an itinerant news reader, bringing current events to people in the towns that he visits. Ten cents a session.
As one blogger puts it, “I loved how the title carried so much significance … he could read the people … and opens our eyes to the harsh realities of that time.”
This film reunites Hanks with director Paul Greengrass (they did “Captain Phillips” together). “I wanted to make a film that felt a little different, slower and a little more classically shaped,” says Greengrass. “I re-watched all of John Ford’s films and ‘The Searchers’ in particular. This is ‘The Searchers’ in reverse, the journey back rather than the journey to find.”
The rescued girl is played by Helena Zengal, a 12-year old German actress who won the Deutscher Filmpreis (the German Film Prize) for Best Actress in 2020.
Hanks you know as “America’s Dad.” But here the girl calls him “grandfather.”
This is Tom Hanks’s very first Western. Why now? As CinemaBlend quips, “This time it’s a Western because I guess he ran out of WWII movies.”
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