Release Date(s)2020 (March 23, 2021)
Studio(s)Playtone/Perfect World/Pretty Pictures/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
South Texas, 1870. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a former Confederate Army captain who travels from town to town with the latest newspapers, which he reads to local audiences for ten cents a head. He’s also running from a haunted past, or at least attempting to. But all of this becomes more complicated when, while traveling to his next destination on the road, he happens upon an overturned cart, the body of its hanged driver, and a 10-year-old White girl, dressed in Native American clothes, who’s been hiding in the brush. Upon searching the cart, Kidd finds documents that reveal the girl (Johanna, played by newcomer Helena Zengel) is an orphan who was being delivered to her closest relatives on a farm near San Antonio. When he takes her to the next Union Army checkpoint, Kidd learns that it may be months before anyone can claim her, so he takes it upon himself to deliver the girl to her family. But the road to San Antonio is long, and it’s fraught with danger.
Directed by Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy), News of the World is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles. This is a film that takes some time to reveal its charms. The story starts out not unlike many examples of the western genre you may have seen, and it features a number of plot turns that aren’t unexpected. But after a while, the film starts to go its own way, and that’s when things get interesting. Hanks is as likable as ever here, but it’s his character’s connection with Johanna—and Zengel’s own refreshing approach to playing her—that really breathes life into the story. These two actors are, in a word, terrific together. Their connection is strong and genuine, and you believe it the moment you see it on screen. The supporting cast doesn’t have much to do here, but they do it well, among then Ray McKinnon (Deadwood), Mare Winningham (Georgia), Elizabeth Marvel (Homeland), and Bill Camp (The Queen’s Gambit). Dariusz Wolski’s expansive cinematography and an intentionally rough-hewn, slightly out-of-tune score by James Newton Howard (which features mostly period 19th-century instruments) pulls it all together nicely. All in all, this is a lovely film.
News of the World was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K) using Arri Alexa LF and LF Mini cameras, with Panavision Vintage 65 and Angenieux Optimo lenses. It was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio and graded for high dynamic range. Note that HDR10 is available on the UHD disc, and HDR10+ should be, though there is some question about this (and I don’t have the ability to utilize the latter in my review system). Overall image clarity is excellent, with clean and refined texturing visible in fabrics, foliage, rock, skin, and grass. Shadows exhibit great depth, while still retaining detail, and the highlights are bold but shy of being eye-reactive. The film’s look is high contrast and its color palette is muted by design, befitting the period western setting. But those colors are nicely accurate and nuanced—a fine range of browns, tans, ochers, golds, blues, and muted greens are in evidence. It’s a very nice 4K image; not quite a dazzler, but a presentation that impresses with its subtleties.
Audio on Universal’s 4K disc is included in English Dolby Atmos, a home theater port of the original theatrical mix. The soundstage is big, wide, and enveloping, a true hemispheric sonic environment. The height channels are used mostly to compete the overhead immersion, though they do get a bit more active on occasion—during the gunfight, for example, as well as in crowd scenes, during dust and rain storms, etc. Music fidelity and clarity of dialogue are excellent. The film’s score has a full, pleasing sound. And the bass is firm, with excellent punch and heft when needed. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are also available, as are subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Both the 4K and the Blu-ray included in the packaging offer the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Paul Greengrass
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 7 scenes – 11:16 in all)
- Partners: Tom Hanks & Helena Zengel (HD – 7:01)
- Western Action (HD – 7:37)
- Paul Greengrass Makes News of the World (HD – 10:59)
- The Kiowa (HD – 3:57)
The deleted scenes actually feature a few nice character moments, and there are a couple that would have been welcome if they’d stayed in the film. The Greengrass commentary is very easy to listen to; this director is clearly a thoughtful and curious human being, and he offers many insights on the production. The rest of this material is basically EPK-style featurettes, but there’s some nice content therein—you get to see more than a glimpse of aspects of the production you’d want to if asked. So while this isn’t a comprehensive package of extras, it’s all worth checking out.
News of the World is a story of redemption, about two lost souls who’ve been through life’s grinder and are wearily searching for a home. The setting and direction are authentic and honest, and the two leads are charming together, each completely in their element. This film is worth your time, and it’s one that’s likely to grow in apprection over time as well. Don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt