PG-13 mainly for violence and cruelty. There is the implication that a group of criminals wants to kidnap a girl to sell her into prostitution, but the movie isn't exactly explicit about those intentions. But there is death and violence. I would say that I was happy that I didn't let my nine-year-old daughter watch this movie, despite the fact that she wanted to. I especially can confirm this with the visual lynching that happens in the movie, which is gruesome beyond reproach.
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
Oh my gosh, I really don't want to write right now. I want to go to sleep. I want to play video games. I want to read my book or go for a run or anything than write this blog. I Have a stack of papers that I have to grade that I just collected. I just finished another stack of papers. I don't know why this takes priority. But I also know that if I didn't prioritize the blog, it would always be ignored given the chance. So for the sake of habit forming, here's a blog about News of the World, a movie that my wife described as being the same as every other movie about the Wild West that she's ever seen.
She's not wrong. I mean, I really liked the movie, despite the fact that my sleepy brain is having a hard time really choosing a stand out movie in the whole two-hour narrative. But there are instantly connections to True Grit (probably the remake more than the OG) and The Searchers. The idea of the American frontier being a dangerous place for a little girl has been one that has been talked about before. The major takeaway from these films is that the little girl, while her life has improved with the addition of a father figure, often is strong enough to battle the hardships of the West more than any man by himself. Yeah, the setting matters. Yeah, the genre matters. But this story isn't necessarily emotionally bonded with the idea of the Western. Instead, Johanna is representative of the general resilience of children. While Johanna probably would have physically survived without the intervention of Captain Kidd. But Johanna seems overtly unhappy for the majority of the film. This is going to get into some pretty dicey subject matters, so I'm going to explore this with kid gloves.
Johanna's primary goal at the beginning of the film is to return to the tribe that kidnapped her as a child. They murdered her family, but she has always viewed them as her family. Greengrass doesn't really allow the movie to explore the nuanced story of the indigenous people and how they viewed Johanna in the tribe. Instead, we get the idea that Johanna is a girl without a people. She is on the outside of white civilization while also being physically separated from people who took care of her for her life. I don't know if the movie necessarily makes it clear if the indigenous people didn't want her anymore or whether she is simply the byproduct of another tragedy. But we get the notion that Kidd and Johanna form a symbiotic relationship. While Johanna's trauma is very externalized, Kidd's seems to be a background pain that affects what he does in life. He doesn't seem overtly sad. If anything, his reading of the news brings him satisfaction. It awards him a quieter life and that seems to befit him. But as the movie progresses, we understand that Kidd is suffering deeply from the loss of a family and from the losing of a war.
But I want to explore that war and the weird narrative it presents us. I'm flashing to Firefly (created by also controversial Joss Whedon). Firefly starts off with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his loss at the Battle of Serenity Valley. The interesting narrative is about a protagonist living amongst his enemy. Mal is forced to grin and bear civilization run by the Alliance, a faction that he fundamentally disagrees with. Kidd, similarly, was a Confederate soldier. He tends to bond with his audience because they, too, are formerly of the Confederacy and are simple people. But I want to talk about the difference between the Alliance and the Confederacy. It seems pretty standard to have former Confederate soldiers as the protagonists in the Westerns. They are men without homes. But I don't necessarily love the folksy wisdom that these Confederate nomads have. Kidd probably was responsible for his fair share of atrocities in the name of the Confederate States of America. The most powerful moment in the movie is when he is staring at the body of a Black boy, hanging from a tree from a lynching. It horrifies him...
...but it also has nothing to do with the story. It isn't this moment where Kidd repents for his choice of side. There isn't this major internal conflict where he questions his own allegiances. Kidd, from moment one, seems to be a guy with a square head on his shoulders. He has a mission and that mission tends to have moral implications. Yet, the movie chooses to have this moment of a lynching that draws his attention. He is a Confederate soldier. These are details that, in 2021, can't really be ignored. As much as the movie is about healing, I don't know if this is the healing that is exactly spelled out over the course of the narrative. What kind of spirals out of this --and I'm aware that I'm putting my own perspectives on this --is that same message we've been getting time and again. When a movie shows this degree of racism but doesn't directly make it about the racism, it kind of has the message of "My problems are more important." Kidd, a man who is deeply entrenched in the race issue, sees the product of the race issue and continues to stick to the problems of white people. I get that he doesn't judge Johanna for being an outsider among two separate cultures. I'm glad. But if God ever gave you a sign, dude.
At the end of the day, this leaves me in a position. It's a good movie that I've seen before. Like, it's really well made. If I'm on board your Western, especially if I've seen it before, that's a pretty good Western. But is it really fulfilling? Why have this stuff about race if you aren't going to address the stuff about race? Yeah, you have some really solid messages about family. But your protagonist is someone who is presented as this moral character who is just remarkably cool with not making the world's problems his problems. He takes in this girl because he feels bad for her, but what about how he helped bring about some pretty terrible atrocities? It's just the myth of the noble Confederate perpetuated. That's a bit of a problem. And if the only reason that we see this character appear time and time again because we've come to expect that trope, maybe we should change the trope?
Okay, I put my due diligence in. They don't all have to be tanks.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.