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The Conservative Critic

Oscar Watch: News of the World



Despite making every educated shortlist for Best Picture, News of the World was booted from the final nomination roster for this year’s Oscars and the biggest surprise was the snub for America’s favorite, good-guy, Tom Hanks who was not featured in the Oscars Best Actor category this year. The film did receive four Oscar nominations for music, sound, cinematography and production design. 

While all nominations are an honor, the film’s total of four is well south of what it deserved. It begs the question: why was News of the World snubbed? What did Hollywood not like? As for the Conservative Critic, I will be asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And of course “Is it liberal propaganda?” 

The Conservative Critic, Oscar Watch: News of the World, Meter Check:

Overall Rating: Great

News of the World achieves greatness by mirroring its hero and sharing relatively untold stories about the unique land of Texas immediately post-Confederacy including traveling newsmen, native-raised white children whose families died in territorial conflicts, and the uneducated former Confederate soldiers living in limbo between a cause they lost and a cause they don’t yet believe in. Woven with real cowboy shootouts, wagon chases, dust storms, and the rugged landscape of western Texas, News of the World provides a fresh take wrapped up in the blanket of an old western. 

The performances are stellar. It’s a fun watch. And while the format is formulaic (man travels long journey -encounters bad guys along the way), it works and delivers a great film worth a watch from any movie lover.

Its absence from the Oscar Best Picture list is an absolute outrage considering the presence of Mank. Further, Tom Hanks was without question snubbed for his role and should have received a Best Actor nomination along with his young co-star, Helena Zengel, who should have received a Best Supporting Actress nomination. The very clear reason the film was not nominated was nothing but politics. More on this in “Is it Liberal Propaganda?” 

Is it Entertaining? 

Rating: Exciting and sweet

I love a western and I love the format of westerns. News of the World is an easy and entertaining watch with plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments of tension as Captain Kidd played by Tom Hanks takes a vulnerable little girl, Joanna played by Helena Zengel across a rough and violent landscape. 

The film is tense and fun. Kidd and Joanna take on the baddest bad guys at high speeds, climbing hills for the high ground and improvising explosives. They get lost and coerced and trapped. They make enemies and friends. It’s a wild ride with an emotional and sweet underlying story built between two unlikely friends who don’t speak the same language literally or metaphorically. 

There are some slow moments where the pair of heroes bond and learn about one another but they don’t last and they are few enough and far between not to slow down the overall pace of the film. 

Does it have intellectual/artistic value? 

Rating: Exceptional 

While the basic plot structure follows a formula that I’m normally not keen to endorse (man goes on a long journey and man inevitably encounters many struggles on said journey. A long road is a lazy plot tool), the comfortable structure was strongly executed with beautiful cinematography perfectly capturing the desolate, massive landscape that is the Texas sprawl and strong performances from both lead actors.

 Director, Paul Greengrass (known for his work on the Bourne series) artfully captures the raw and uncertain time of just-post-confederate Texas. Faced with a failed cause which cost thousands of lives and bankrupt countless communities, the Texans of News of the World were grappling with joblessness, starvation, violent conflicts between races of all kinds (white men, natives, black men etc) and the stark reality of a future unknown. 

This uncertainty and vulnerability is personified through a little blonde girl, raised by the Kiowa tribe who killed her parents in a land ownership conflict stuck in the middle of a waterless plain with a man she doesn’t know and can’t understand. The feeling of the film is of human fragility. The viewer feels tired, thirsty, confused and lost. The unflinching danger and loneliness of the land itself is met with the danger and loneliness of their own internal struggle and the cowboy style struggles with baddies throughout the journey. 

Tom Hanks (known from everything) plays a good guy very well and he did not disappoint in his depiction of Captain Kidd. More complicated than Captain Phillips, Kidd is a confederate soldier who is just trying to get by like everyone else after the blood of war. Hanks gives us an extremely principled man who believes in justice, knowledge and education but who left his wife, and killed countless men in the name of protecting the confederacy. Hanks does his usual best transforming into his character and disappearing from his true self to totally suspend disbelief. 

Helena Zengel is a newcomer and gives an extremely strong performance as a little native girl named Cicada with white skin and blonde hair who hates being called by her given name, Joanna. Challenging the viewer to let go of preconceived notions about identity and race and Texans in 1870, Zengel wins the viewer over with rarely spoken charm, spirit and blind loyalty. In stark contrast to the often over written and heavily monologued award nominated performances, Zengel delivers with very little dialog and with the humility to give the screen to her senior co-star. Falling well short of ham – a struggle for her age – Zengel is a refreshing talent who could have a bright future. 

Overall the viewer gets to experience a well thought western with strong performances and unique perspective. News of the World is extremely well done and worthy of far more nominations than it received.  

Is it liberal propaganda? 

Rating: Not at all 

News of the World tells a story from the perspective of confederates. This is considered violent speech according to the radical left. In 2020, Gone with the Wind – objectively one of the greatest films ever made in America- was canceled by the left because it depicted confederates in a sympathetic light, even though it is a distinct plot point in that film that the confederates are on the wrong side of history. So its no shock that while the global press loved News of the World, the American Liberals Associated Hollywood Thug Squad Academy gave it a big fat snub. 

Where other westerns and films like Gone with the Wind depict the confederates as wealthy plantation owners with an Antebellum americana aesthetic or as blood thirsty slaving monsters with no inbetween – News of the World makes the bold and relatively unexplored choice to depict former confederates as loyal men serving a cause they believed in which for most of the soldiers serving in the Civil War on the side of the confederates, was not related to their slave ownership. The truth about slavery – beyond its abhorrence in the eyes of God and man – is that it was a wealthy man’s sin particularly in a state so beleaguered by conflict and poverty like Texas. Under 30% of Texas families owned any slaves at all let alone large scale plantations and all of those families were in east texas out of the mountains. 

The rest of Texas was busy in bloody skirmishes with Mexican nationals and Native tribes for land and sovereignty. They joined the cause under the auspice of standing up for Texas against the heavy hand of the intellectual elites of the north. While any freeman was better off than a slave and any white man was better off than a man or woman of color in 1800s Texas, most citizens of Texas were on the edge of the frontier with not much to their name and no education to speak of. 

News of the World gives this side of the story. It shows us that good people can be caught up in causes that they may not fully understand or perhaps that history wrote a little differently than they thought. Captain Kidd is not a racist, is a proponent of civil rights and education. He served as a confederate but he’s dedicated his life to reading the news and freeing minds. He encounters simple people whose entire families have died and who never had anything to begin with – all victims of a bloody war which defined the identity of a nation they weren’t ready to join.

Frederick Douglass said that America wasn’t a free nation until 1865 and he was right. There was no real America until the end of the Civil War and the movement west. It was the former confederates and slaves together that moved west and created the America we love today. Not plantation owners and self-serving politicians. But men like those in News of the World. Like Captain Kidd and Joanna. 

This is an important story for modern Americans as we face absurdist accusations of white supremacy and racism for fighting for liberty and independence. Failing to understand why people choose the side they choose is a failure to understand our own identity. News of the World takes this head on and Hollywood did not like it. 

Certainly not a liberal note to be found in the film. Definitely safe from any mind melt.

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