Falling asleep while watching a movie is a curious thing. If you are lucky/blessed enough to have a loving partner who will gently (or possibly not so gently) nudge or pinch your shoulder if that person notices you nodding off, you might be able to “put it together” and figure out what is going on with the story.
Often though — at least for me — it is a bit of a hopeless case. Once I fall asleep in a movie, I just lose the whole thing, and I am left completely numb, alone and clueless. I do not know what I missed, and, when it’s over, I have no idea if what I just (almost) saw was good, horrible or “just all right.”
Often I will see a movie more than once if I sleep through it the first time. Very often I am amazed at just how much I missed. It’s a little disturbing, but I am grateful I got a chance to make up for my stupid sluggishness. With a movie like “News of the World,” sleeping through sections was particularly regrettable, because it really is a solidly good piece of filmmaking from consistently good director Paul Greengrass.
“News of the World” features my favorite actor in the universe, Mr. Tom Hanks, as a fundamentally good guy who travels from town to town in Texas, just after the Civil War. He gets paid in dimes by audiences who gather in barns and small halls to hear him read from newspapers around the country, as well as from their own section of whatever Texas town he is in that particular night.
All is moving along smoothly enough for the Hanks character, until he runs into a 10-year-old orphan who lost her birth family to violent Native Americans and is now losing her second family — these same indigenous people — as American soldiers decimate and slaughter them.
So tragic. But it felt so realistic and was refreshingly unsentimental. Hanks’s character finds himself working to get his new 10-year-old friend back to her older brother from her original family. And it is this road trip, via horse and buggy, that makes up the majority of the two hours or so of “News of the World.”
This is a traditional Western film, very well done. Hanks is great, of course.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was just how incredible Hanks’ 10- year-old partner is.
Young German actor Helena Zengel is quite a revelation. Child actors are usually not that great, as cute and adorable as they might be.
Zengel matches Hanks line for line, step for step. And I do not even think she is fully fluent in English. She is just that darn good.
I wish, in a way, the pace of the movie was not so slow.
It does, however, work very well in matching what was probably the rhythm and speed of this late 19th century period.
And the second time I saw it, I appreciated and admired this movie more than I did on my first viewing.
If you like traditional Hollywood Westerns, I urge you to check out “News of the World.”
Next week, I look forward to checking out the twisted, insane fun of “Promising Young Woman.”