Posts Tagged ‘Paul Greengrass’

Helena Zengel, Tom Hanks

“NEWS OF THE WORLD” My rating: B+ (Theaters Christmas Day)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Not merely a celebration of our mythic past, Westerns have usually been a way of looking ahead.

The frontier, settlements, Western expansion, laying rails, driving cattle, overcoming obstacles (be it the weather, Native Americans or outlaws)…these are elements of an inherently optimistic outlook, of a nation on the march.

“News of the World,” though, is that rarest of creatures, the melancholy Western.

While sporting many of the elements of classical oaters (especially John Ford’s “The Searchers”), Paul Greengrass’ effort  is more about loss than a triumphant taming of the wilderness. It is far more concerned with the ache of human suffering and a society in turmoil than in gunplay.

Tom Hanks stars as Jefferson Kidd, a former printer and Confederate officer now living off the back of a horse as he circulates among  Texas towns  to bring his fellow citizens the latest news of 1870.

He’s something of a showman, sporting a black frock coat and spectacles to pore over a stack of recent newspapers, delivering quietly dramatic reports of droughts and floods, plagues and politics.  He’s always on the lookout for human interest stories that connect his listeners to the larger world and its inhabitants (“These are men and women very much like you”). Think of him as a wandering town crier with humanistic tendencies.

It’s a solitary life, at least until he comes across a looted wagon and a hanged man.  Nearby Kidd discovers a white girl (Helena Zengel) — blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles — wearing a fringed buckskin dress.

She speaks no English: papers found nearby identify her as Johanna, who lost her family to a Kiowa war party six years earlier. The kidnapped girl was only recently liberated by soldiers who eradicated her adopted clan. (Orphaned twice, Kidd notes.) The hanged man, her government escort, was a Negro. A handwritten sign on his body announces that blacks are not welcome in the neighborhood.

The only decent thing to do, Kidd concludes, is to bring the girl to an Indian agent who can get her to an aunt and uncle living in south Texas. Of course, government ineptness and the tenor of the times — Indians are hated and feared by the general population — make this a difficult proposition. And so, for the time being, Kidd and the kid become traveling companions (the film was shot in New Mexico and is beautiful without romanticizing the environment).


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Captain-Phillips“CAPTAIN PHILLIPS” My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 11)

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Tom Hanks’ near-uncanny ability to build a compelling Every Man character out of minimal substance is put to good use in “Captain Phillips,” director Paul Greengrass’s tension-charged recreation of a real-life 2009 hijacking of an American freighter in the Indian Ocean.

Capt. Richard Phillips, the main player in the incident and in this film, is a somewhat controversial character. He was hailed as a hero after Navy Seals rescued him from the lifeboat on which he was being held by four Somali pirates.

But since then members of his crew have sued Phillips for what they say was a reckless disregard for their safety by insisting on navigating close to the Somali coast – thus saving time and money – rather than plotting a course further out to sea.

Hanks and Greengrass have it both ways. We see early on that Phillips can be something of a tough captain – not a Queeg-ish martinet, exactly, but forceful enough to irritate some of his crewmen. But he’s also a resourceful fellow looking out for his men in a crisis.

It’s hard to say precisely what sort of a guy he is. “Captain Phillips” lives mostly in the moment, and we don’t learn a whole lot about our protagonist except when he’s under the gun.

Early on we see him driving to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener, filmed so obliquely she’s hardly recognizable) and we learn that he’s married with a couple of college-age kids. And that’s about it.

Under most circumstances this would result in a movie with a hole where its center should be.  But Tom Hanks fills the void with his own star presence. And it pretty much works.


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