Tom Hanks has time and time again proven that he is one of the most remarkable talents in Hollywood, taking on wide varieties of different projects and roles with new genres and personalities, but one thing that you may not have registered about his career is how entirely 20th/21st century-oriented it has been. With the exception of one segment in the underappreciated Cloud Atlas, every story he's been a part of has been set after the year 1900, which also happens to mean that he's never made a true western before. That's a streak that finally ends this week with the arrival of Paul Greengrass' new film News Of The World, but it may surprise you to learn the simple answer as to why Hanks never ventured into the arena before: he has simply never had the opportunity.
With the new film set to get a limited theatrical release that kicks off this Friday, Tom Hanks participated in the film's virtual press day earlier this month, and one of the earliest questions he was asked in the interview pertained to the fact that we have never seen him wearing a wide-brimmed hat while sitting on horseback before. As it turns out, the reason for this isn't because he has some kind of hatred for westerns, but instead simply because westerns just aren't made all that often in Hollywood anymore. He explained,
Nobody makes westerns; it's as simple as that. I mean, if you want to look at the business, I know of westerns that have been made that had absolutely no international distribution deals because it just felt their audiences don't relate to westerns. The idea of a western, the genre of the western, kind of like the storytelling device, if you took John Ford, well, now John Ford has been Lucas-ized, George Lucas. The science fiction movie has really taken the concept of the western away. Blasters and lightsabers instead of bows and arrows and six guns. Snow speeders, as opposed to horses. That's not a bad thing. That's just the way cinema works.
Even before this question was brought up, Tom Hanks even directly acknowledged this concept in his opening remarks about News Of The World in the interview, saying that he likes to think of it as, "The Mandalorian without lightsabers."
What Tom Hanks is referring to here is really a macro look at the development of genre filmmaking through the 20th century. It used to be that westerns were the hottest thing being produced in Hollywood, but it was around the 1960s/1970s that everything began to shift. First westerns themselves started to evolve, with movies like Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid and the rise of Spaghetti Westerns in Italy evolving perception of the genre, but then science-fiction became the dominant force and started utilizing similar themes in bold news ways. Of course, the industry has never stopped making movies set in the old west completely, but there is no arguing that there are far fewer made today than there used to be.
Every so often in the last 20 years we have seen some notable films get made, such as the remake of True Grit, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Brokeback Mountain, but they arrive few and far between. And as Tom Hanks explained, he doesn't have the kind of power that allows him to say, "I want to make this kind of movie" and watch as a project leaps into development. He continued,
It's like, 'How come you haven't made a Western?' People can say, 'I'd really like to make a western' in the same way they'd say 'I'd really like to make a movie about Irish coal miners.' But unless a story about Irish coal miners is actually going to have some import, or impact there's no reason to make it. Likewise, there is no reason to make a Western just because you get to wear comfortable clothes and a hat. It has to be about something that's bigger than just the film or the style of the film.
Based on the book of the same name by author Paulette Jiles, News Of The World stars Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd – a former Confederate who has spent the years since the end of the Civil War traveling around Texas and hosting staged readings of the national news. His life gets totally upended one day when he comes across a lost girl on the road, and while he doesn't believe at first that he has the capacity to take care of a child, he decides to make it his mission to see her returned to her living relatives safely.
The film will be playing on the big screen starting this Friday, December 25, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend, as we have plenty more coming for your from our interview with the star!