Some films grab you with a profound message. Others draw you into an experience. Paul Greengrass’s News of the World falls into the latter category. The film features a mixture of sweeping and intimate imagery. In the first category, we get lush landscapes and bustling western towns with all of the ruggedness. Those images give the film a classic western flair. We move from the outside into the dim, hazy, lantern-lit meeting halls and rooms offer an intimate contrast. The opposite imagery highlights Captain Kidd’s (Tom Hanks) connection with people in a rugged land. It all combines into a masterwork of visual storytelling.
A Wide Open World
News of the World is full of spectacle and features shots reminiscent of John Ford’s iconic westerns. New Mexico’s desert landscape served as the shooting location for 1870s Texas. In the film, Captain Kidd and Johanna (Helena Zengel) travel from town to town, which showcases the open terrain. Their small wagon set against the open desert emphasizes the beauty and danger of the time and place.
The set design of the western towns is also impressive. They have a similar look to classic western films but maintain a dirty and gritty appearance. You believe the film takes place in the era it portrays. Every town has a unique look and character. For example, Dallas looks established and built up, while smaller towns seem like temporary camps in the mud. You never get the sense that the towns are the same place with different signage. It all adds to the traveling element of the film.
One of the first things that stood out about News of the World was the dimness of the interior shots. The film begins with one of Captain Kidd’s news readings. The cramped interior space of the meeting house and its dimly lit lanterns creates a sense of intimacy. He connects with the people he encounters. Soon after that scene, we find Captain Kidd in his bedroom. The room is very dim as a few lanterns appear to be the only source of light. The camera also captures a haze or steam inside the room that makes it feel hot and cramped. The mixture of lighting and space creates an atmosphere that contrasts the vastness of the outdoor wilderness.
Ultimately, News of the World is a story about making connections. The film’s visual art emphasizes that we can find meaningful connections even in the most unexpected places.