Moviegoer: A Tale of Two Movies

Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks star in News of the World.

Thinking about watching a film this weekend? Let the Moviegoer help you out

By Diana Beechener 

New year, same problems. Some moviegoers haven’t returned to movie theaters yet—let me be clear, neither movie we’re talking about this week is worth that risk—however, if you’re hoping to rent or screen a new movie at home this weekend, this Moviegoer has some advice to make sure you don’t end up losing two hours of your life to a dud.  

The Rundown 

Available to rent on most on-demand services, News of the World is the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks: Greyhound), a man who travels across post-Civil War Texas reading the news aloud to remote communities. On his travels Kidd encounters Johanna (Helena Zengel: System Crasher), a young German girl kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe after her family was massacred. When the tribe was forced from their land, Johanna was stolen again by Indian Services so that she could be returned to living relatives. Kidd takes it upon himself to return Johanna to her people, braving a treacherous journey across the wilds of Texas to do so.  

Now showing in theaters and on HBO Max, The Little Things is the story of disgraced detective Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington: The Equalizer 2). Long retired from the LAPD, Deacon is drawn back to the city when a serial killer he hunted reappears. New detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek: Doolittle) is drawn to Deacon’s knack for picking apart cases, and soon the men have zeroed in on a prime suspect: Albert Sparma (Jared Leto: The Outsider). Can the men stop Sparma before he strikes again?  

The Good 

Another collaboration between Hanks and director Paul Greengrass (22 July), News of the World is a fun Western romp with well-worn tropes and genuinely lovely performances. Zengel especially is a brilliant find. Her Johanna, though often unable to communicate, has deeply expressive eyes and a wild sneer that makes her both endearing and compelling. She’s also a scrappy little thing, willing to fight in a crisis. 

Hanks does his usual good-guy shtick which makes him both watchable and entertaining as he tries to reach a little girl who sees him as a burden. He’s also a brilliant choice for what was, essentially, ye olden news anchor, as there is no one in cinema as trustworthy as older Tom Hanks.  

But Greengrass also layers the film with some interesting things to say about the importance of unbiased news and the terrible things a lack of news can do to communities. Hanks’ Kidd is a window to the world for many people he encounters, and it’s striking what expanding a worldview can do for people.  

What’s good about The Little Things? Rami Malek cuts a fine figure in his suits and Denzel Washington still has one of the best smiles in cinema (which you see three times in total). That’s about it.  

The Bad 

News of the World is a well-meaning, if slow film. Devoid of Greengrass’ usual seizure-inducing shaky cam, the film instead takes a staid, ponderous tone. While that slow pace helps develop the characters, it can make a few moments drag. This is also not a movie of high emotion. Though we have a burgeoning father-daughter relationship, many dead family members, and some harrowing encounters, nothing in the film feels emotionally raw. You won’t need tissues for this film, even when the music swells dramatically.  

Sadly, it’s not just the little things that went wrong with The Little Things. The film has a ludicrous plot, an ending that is tone deaf considering our current climate, and editing that makes the movie look like it was put together with limited means. Director/writer John Lee Hancock (The Highwaymen) wrote the script for this film in the ‘90s and it shows. 

There’s naked bound dead women displayed for viewer titillation, angry cops that must break the rules to get stuff done, and a suspect who’s so studiously weird it’s frankly ludicrous any woman would speak to him, let alone allow him into their homes. Everything about the film feels old-fashioned, especially when Hancock rips off scenes from far superior ‘90s thrillers like Silence of the Lambs.  

It’s also a bit of a triumph to make three Oscar winning actors look like the stars of a 2nd grade pageant. Leto decided to perform all possible physical affectations at once, waving his hands and goggling his eyes like a dollar store version of Charles Manson. Malek makes it through the entire movie without blinking while clenching his jaw as if it’s wired shut. Only Washington seems to escape with his Oscar-winning credentials intact. It’s not a brilliant performance, but Washington’s natural charisma carries him through an abominable script. 

The Verdict  

While there’s nothing especially groundbreaking about News of the World, it’s an entertaining diversion. Think of it as one of those basic cable movies that played on a loop over the weekends that your dad would watch. The $20 rental fee is steep, but if you’re in the market for good acting and a bit of nostalgia, it’s a safe bet.  

Though technically free to those who subscribe to HBO Max, there is a heavy price to be paid if you watch The Little Things. Irritation takes a heavy toll on both the mind and the blood pressure. Before pressing play on this dumpster fire of a film, think of your health. 

News of the World * Fair Western * PG-13 * 118 mins.  

The Little Things * Torturous Thriller * R * 127 mins.