“News of the World,” the much-loved western from Jason Bourne films director Paul Greengrass, is out on Netflix. It tells the story of a Civil War veteran who travels from town to town, sharing news from all over the world, and tries to bring home a 10-year-old girl raised by Indians. Film critic Yegor Belikov saw important lessons for today’s viewers in this unexpected film.
Often journalists forget what their job is all about. One begins to struggle endlessly for bright ideals, preaching, and finally building personal brands. In reality, though, this work, seemingly simple and already unnecessary, is critical. It is vital for us as a population to learn about each other, about what is going on with other people, even those we do not know personally, so that we do not forget that there are people just like us on the other side of the world, and that we are all united by something invisible. And not only the genome, but also emotions, aspirations, hopes, dreams, and circumstances of the times. In addition to being in the know, newspaper news–that second hand of history–is necessary for humanity to remain as a humanity rather than as disparate and likely conflicting factions.
This uncomplicated but often overlooked idea is conveyed quite convincingly, and not head-on, but allegorically, by the film “News from Around the World.”
1870s, Texas. The Civil War is over calendar, but not in the mind–the tectonic shifts induced by the course of history do not happen so quickly. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) has survived this intra-American meat grinder, but has never been able to return to his former life. He drives through the villages and entertains the locals for a dime with a rudimentary performance–telling the contents of recent newspapers without adding anything to it, neither opinion nor even intonation (which, of course, is surprising to the modern viewer, who is used to consuming news in someone else’s perception–on YouTube). One day, on a road in the woods, Captain Kidd finds a girl with no name or address (Helena Zengel), who has lost herself, her past and even her language – she speaks Kayowa Indian (now extinct – there are only a thousand old people left who still remember something), though her name seems to be German, Johanna, though it turns out that that is not her name either. The kind-hearted Kidd takes her along, trying to bring her home.
The mere fact that “News From Around the World” is out on Netflix is already an infomercial. It’s a direct consequence of the big redistribution in the American film industry. Fox was going to release the film, but then this company was bought by Disney, and everything got mixed up: the rights went to Universal, they even managed to release the picture in the American box office, but then Netflix bought the rights for the international distribution of this picture (except Canada and the United States). In Russia there was even an announcement of a theatrical release, but then it was canceled. Curiously enough, the film is not what you might call progressive, unexpected, scandalous, and provocative. I mean, okay, the studios’ fight would have been over a hot potato like “The Girl Who’s Got Hope.” On the contrary, in its simplicity and universality of perception, this film is like a newspaper: take it and read it. Not even a book, it’s thicker; more complexly conceived and written.
At the same time the film is based on a novel, and a very intricate one at that (Paulette Giles’ work of the same name, of course, has not been translated into Russian, so that is all that is left to us). Captain Kidd – not another hero of the Westerns, as any of the characters Clint Eastwood. He is a desperate opponent of violence and even live ammunition in his gun, which he does carry with him – there is no other way. He sees in reading aloud the news to the illiterate, a strange, long-neglected profession he has mastered willy-nilly, a kind of important educational function, though he does not stick it out, nor does he imagine himself as the savior of thirsty souls.
His occasional companion is no less curious. She is played by Helena Zengel, now a 12-year old actress, but already an accomplished one: The System Breaker, a German film about a mad orphan, was in the Berlinale main competition and the actress even won the German National Film Award for Best Leading Actress. Here she is as much a wanderer as Kidd, a child of war, and it is obvious to her sudden caretaker that only stories from around the world would save her from forced silence – only a culture of words.
But the picture adds nothing to this non-trivial plot twist – and in this the main, oddly enough, not a mistake, but the merit of Paul Greengrass, a very recognized (as if too much) director, who won for “Bloody Sunday” even the main prize of the Berlin Film Festival, but is best known for the three films about Jason Bourne. He doesn’t overdo the stylization as a purebred cowboy western, because that’s not what the story is about, but he doesn’t modernize the texture either (not the Bridgertons here). This is a world in which the age of at least some applied humanism has not yet dawned. The nameless girl has no rights – they even try to ransom her for money from her “master.” Kidd himself, whose role is played by Tom Hanks, the nicest actor in the world, the “father” of the American nation, plays traditionally delicate, does not even think about the principles of freedom of speech – such a concept is not yet discussed. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes, he reads a newspaper in a small village. The local bigwig asks the artist to mention only neighborhood events, but Kidd talks about spiritually uplifting news from outlying areas, which lifts the civic spirits of the peasants. For which he pays.
In short, “News from Everywhere” is a Western only formally, although it directly exploits the genre’s well-established theme of inter-epochality, of living in anticipation of a future that is in no way coming, visualizing lawlessness, inhumanity and arguing that the only thing that can stand up to it all is enlightenment. The film is measured and moderate, but this is its strength. At a time of great change, it is more important than ever to look back at times like ours in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of those times. In doing so, Greengrass does not moralize, but simply, as in the old days, tells a story, fictional but believable – it would be right to celebrate this laudable effort with an Oscar.