“I guess we both have demons to face, going down this road.”
Story: Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd goes from town to town in the West, reading the news to people in an engaging style. When he finds a “wild” girl after her guardian had been attacked and lynched, he takes it upon himself to bring her home. But as she’s spent more time with the Kiowa people, what is home, exactly?
Genre I’d put it in: New Retro Western
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles.
Gotta say: World is beautiful to look at, with a vintage feel, all yellows and burnt siennas in the day, and cool blues at night. Lends a historical vibe to this wild west story. But as much as I adore Tom Hanks, World feels longer than its two hours, and I’m not sure why. Hanks delivers an incredible performance as Kidd, a former preacher who has a softly lingering PTSD after his time in the Civil War. It’s a quiet performance that’s sure to get attention during this year’s award season, and director Paul Greengrass (the Bourne series, Captain Phillips) knows just when to close in on Hanks’ face, delivering maximum emotional impact. And holy cow Helena Zengel does some serious heavy lifting as Kidd’s young charge Johanna. Not only does she hold her own against Hanks, she stands toe-to-toe, giving as good as she gets. I look forward to seeing her blossom into a top-notch actress in the coming years.
The cinematography is gorgeous; as I’ve said, that color palette is sumptuous Western beauty dialed to eleven. A travelogue through the wild west right after the Civil War. Wagon trains, towns, cities, tribes, all shot beautifully, from sweeping vistas to gruesome scenes of buffalo being slaughtered for their pelts and nothing more. While you may not believe that I’m not old enough to have first-hand experience with Reconstruction in America, I don’t…but damn the gritty realism of the houses, wagons, and costumes pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. The melting pot of African Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans all lent a realistic look to the wild Western towns Kidd and Johanna move through.
So why am I so exhausted after watching this? Perhaps it’s because the plot goes from interaction to interaction in a slow, winding pace. That pace matches perfectly with the lead character’s journey, but while each moment is excellently done, I couldn’t help but feel that this would have made a good series. Like The Mandalorian, the over-arching narrative coupled with run-ins and moments of ease would play well as a limited miniseries. As a film, however, World feels like a whole lot crammed into two hours (that felt like four.)
Which is a shame, because this story is fascinating. The fight between Kidd and a bad guy they who wants to “buy” (ICK) Johanna echoes the twist and turns of The Duelist. There are also moments that hark back to Dances With Wolves, Shane, and even some good ol’ Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Does that sound like a whole lot happening? Yep, it’s a whole lot. And perhaps my lockdown brain isn’t used to digesting more than YouTube video essays and stupid holiday movies.
But World is what it is. A gorgeous, well-acted, impeccably crafted, marathon of a film. I say check it out, but give yourself a break when you need to. Chop it up into fun sections, ala episodes of The Mandalorian, and get the optimum enjoyment out of every second. (Rather than pulling a me and finding yourself checking the clock every twenty minutes or so.) As they say, this is the way.