“It’s right up there with his finest work," Greengrass says of his News of the World star.

By James Hibberd
October 23, 2020 at 02:00 PM EDT
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Credit: Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

It’s tough to imagine a more comforting pop culture promise than a Tom Hanks movie on Christmas Day. In News of the World, the two-time Oscar winner stars in his first-ever Western as a post-Civil War captain who’s fallen on hard times, traveling from town to town putting on a one-man show giving news updates for dispossessed, lonely locals. When a 10-year-old German girl is rescued after being taken by a Native American tribe, Hanks’ Jefferson Kyle Kidd agrees to embark on a perilous expedition to return the child to her family.

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“It’s a moving story as they traverse South Texas, which at the time was roiling with tension and danger and unresolved conflict,” says director Paul Greengrass. “The journey becomes a search for belonging for both of them.”

Greengrass is a rather unlikely director for the project, having previously focused on edgy contemporary action films such as the Bourne franchise and docu-thrillers like United 93. But a change in pace is precisely why the 65-year-old Englishman wanted to try his hand at a Western. “I wanted to do something that felt different, but still felt like me,” says Greengrass, who strove to give the well-worn genre a more contemporary feel.

Greengrass previously directed Hanks in Captain Phillips, and he believes the actor’s News performance could earn him a third Oscar statue for his mantel, following his wins for 1993’s Philadelphia and 1994’s Forrest Gump. “It’s right up there with his finest work; I believed him from his very first scene,” Greengrass says. “He also surprised me with how superb he was on a horse.”

It’s perhaps appropriate that this unprecedented year for Hollywood, and the world, should conclude with a rousing film starring a COVID-19 survivor.

“The film feels eerily prescient,” Greengrass says. “Because we’re all searching for better days to come, aren’t we?”

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