News of the World (12A)

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News o

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. - Credit: Universal Studios/Netflix

Although Disney and Warner have allowed a few big titles to slip out on their streaming services, the other major studios continue to hoard their precious things, holding them back for some future dam burst of normality.

But for Universal the cost of keeping James Bond clutched to its breast is the sacrifice of some lesser projects. Thus this Tom Hanks western, a reunion with his Captain Phillips director Greengrass, has been abandoned to the dark forest of Netflix with no trail of breadcrumbs to lead it to an audience.

It was perhaps an obvious choice. This tale of a Civil War veteran who travels around Texas reading newspapers to audiences, and takes on the hazardous task of delivering an orphaned child Johanna (12-year old Zengel,) to her uncle and aunt, always suggested something more broadsheet than tabloid.

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News o

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. - Credit: Universal Studios/Netflix

With a bit of luck, it might have been an Oscar Pleader but any studio financing this movie did so with little expectation of profit. It is a thoroughly decent and honourable film. The West is definitely wild but the menace is mostly implied.

The rapid editing of Greengrass' earlier Bourne films, an extended find-the-lady ruse that always left you grasping after something you'd just missed, has been replaced by a gentle pace and nothing-up-my-sleeves openness.


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Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an archetypal mature Hanks figure: broken yet almost wincingly upstanding. Zengal's role as a child brought up by the Kiowa tribe who had murdered her birth parents is almost as destructive and unruly as the character in her breakout film, System Crasher.

Their relationship is a slight framework to hang a film from but the old hand and the fresh face are a winning combination. I was more compelled by the question of what attracted Hanks and Greengrass to the project.

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The modern-day parallels – the importance of an impartial news service in a country fiercely divided by ideology and race? The irony of that title for a film about the selfless maintenance of ethical standards? It's a fine film but if one evening while browsing through Netflix I'd felt inclined to give it a go, I suspect I'd have made my excuses and left sometime before halfway. 3/5 stars.

Directed by Paul Greengrass. Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Angelo Covino and Bill Camp. Streaming on Netflix from February 10. Running time: 118 mins.

Go to http://www.halfmanhalfcritic.com/ for a review of Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland and Dead Pigs.

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