Tag Archives: Jason Bourne

News of the World

27 Dec

‘News of the World’: Tom Hanks returns, bringing his decency to a frontier mission

By Tom MeekFriday, December 25, 2020

“News of the World” re-teams Tom Hanks (“Greyhound,” “Big”) and director Paul Greengrass (“United 93” and the Jason Bourne films) after their 2013, real-life Somali pirate ordeal, “Captain Phillips.” That was a serviceable enough film. Here, in this Reconstruction-era Western, the production values and sense of place – a lawless frontier peppered with amorality and humanity – go far. Based on Paulette Jiles’s bestselling novel, Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a gentlemanly Confederate veteran who drifts through Texas reading news stories with dramatic flair to townsfolk who gather in a church, barn or paddock and pay 10 cents for his heightened oration. They’re true stories, mind you, right from print; you can think of the wandering tour as something akin to newsreel footage shown in theaters during the two great wars before there was TV.

At one juncture between towns, Kidd comes across a lynched black man with a note affixed, “Texas Says No! This is White Man’s Country” – a stark reminder of where we’ve been and sadly still not too far from. Close by, Kidd finds a young German girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel), whom he quickly learns was taken in by the Kiowa tribe when her parents were killed, raised as one of their own and, as a result, speaks more Kiowa than German or English. A passing law party tasks Kidd with returning the girl to authorities in the next town (the Kiowa, we find out, have been eradicated through land grab policy), but when those accommodations prove unsound, Kidd takes on the responsibility of shepherding Johanna to her aunt and uncle.

Part of Hank’s cinematic appeal has always been the way his “decent fella” navigates a brutal land, and it’s put on full display here where, once outside a town’s main street, the law won’t come even if they hear you calling. Johanna proves to be a lot to handle in her own right, and many along the way want to cut Kidd down so they can abduct the girl and sell her on the flesh market; there’s also the fact she’s considered native, which parks her in the same subhuman caste as a black person in the eyes of many.

To its advantage, “News of the World” isn’t so much about the plumbing of division and hate – it’s right there in nearly every frame – but the slow-budding bond between Kidd and Johanna in light of it. Hanks holds it all together with his soulful eyes, channeling the conflicted righteous goodness of Jimmy Stewart: You get a good idea who the man is behind them and what he’ll do when the chips are down. The film’s big revelation is Zengel, who demonstrates broad emotional range and nuance in a role in which a language barrier and fits of tween angst are part of the package. She handles both with aplomb.Of course, none of this happens without the sets and setting, pulled off with authenticity. To Greengrass’ credit as director and co-writer, the shootouts and trail conflicts are awkward, sudden things that often go down in unexpected and sloppy ways. It’s the kind of raw, revisionist stamp that separated Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” (1992), Kevin Costner’s “Open Range” (2003) and most of Sam Peckinpah’s Western classics from the morally right black-and-white Hollywood studio staples. In that gray area where good doesn’t always prevail and the fastest gun doesn’t always win, there’s truth.

American Assassin

20 Sep
American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

Courtesy CBS Films

American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

It’s got to be more than just a tad coincidental that the jingoistic revenge fantasy American Assassin comes out on the tail of the 16th anniversary of one of the most ominous days in our country’s recent history — you can almost see the studio bean counters hovering over the calendar and rubbing their hands together. Bristling bravado and vengeance drive the film based on Vince Flynn’s best-selling novel directed by reliable TV helmer, Michael Cuesta, who showed such promise with his edgy coming-of-age drama L.I.E. (2001). It’s a fairly straight-ahead go that reaches for the technocratic wizardry of Tom Clancy and frenetic energy of Robert Ludlum, but only succeeds in aspiration. The one thing the posse of screenwriters and Cuesta leave out is character development — it’s hard to have a hard-boiled thriller if your hard ass is a cardboard cutout with nothing interesting to say. Running at just under two hours, Assassinfeels longer than it should and you never get that necessary pang of empathy to keep your head in the game.

Jason Bourne

1 Aug

Bourne’s back, but he’s not the same enigmatic killing machine addled by amnesia that we met almost 15 years ago in “The Bourne Identity.” Nope, now the brainwashed CIA operative knows mostly who he is. Gone too is that foggy edge of not knowing who’s good or who’s bad as covert contacts and handlers pop out of the shadows. Back then, being in Bourne’s reprogrammed brain trying to reboot itself was a thrill even without the parkour acrobatics and resourceful use of spare objects as random tools of dispatch.

072916i Jason BourneBasically in the new “Jason Bourne” we’re a long way from the Robert Ludlum material that was so organically and intricately concerned with spy games and double dealings at the highest levels, with Jason Bourne caught up as the harried fly in the ointment. In the five installments – four starring Matt Damon and now three of those helmed by chaos choreography maestro Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips” and “United 93”) – the impetus has moved from an internal struggle driven by outside forces to dubious machinations in those external structures (the CIA and its splintered sub-organizations) looking for any excuse to put Bourne in someone’s crosshairs. In this case it’s those of CIA director Robert Dewey (a craggy Tommy Lee Jones, inheriting the role of heavy from Albert Finney) who doesn’t want Bourne (and his long-running inside collaborative, Nicky Parsons, played again by Julia Stiles) to pull a WikiLeaks dump of the Treadstone file (listing all the behaviorally engineered Bourne-like assassins). Plus he’s got his hooks into social media mogul Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), an amalgam of Zuckerberg and the Google guys, and wants to leverage the company’s Deep Dream network platform (think Facebook) as a tool to acquire info on anyone, anywhere, anytime. Continue reading