Showdown: ‘News of the World’ vs. ‘The Marksman’

Tom Hanks in 'News of the World' and Liam Neeson in 'The Marksman.'
Tom Hanks in ‘News of the World’ and Liam Neeson in ‘The Marksman.’

Every so often, two movies that are more or less seen as being the same thing are released in close proximity to each other. We have another case of that here, even more amazing considering that hardly any movies are going to theaters at all these days. 

In both News of the World and The Marksman, an aged former soldier meets a child that needs to be transported across the country to their only family. The two set out, but then face numerous troubles and pursuers. They do differ, though, in things like time period, the language that comprises the initial communication barrier, and general competence. 

Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) makes his post-Civil War living by going from town to town to deliver the, well, news of the world. During one such trek, he comes across Johanna (Helena Zengel), the sole survivor of a raid. She is a young white girl who was taken in by the Kiowa years ago after the deaths of her parents. When an army checkpoint informs him that the agent for her case won’t be available for several months, he takes the matter into his own hands and vows to get her to her aunt and uncle.

There are actually quite a few directors for whom teaming up with Hanks is something to look forward to (Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Nora Ephron, Robert Zemeckis) and now perhaps we can add Paul Greengrass to that list. The work from the two of them here is spot-on and Zengel makes a tremendous impression keeping pace with them. Also in the cast are greats like Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, and Ray McKinnon, who don’t stick around much but are great to see nonetheless. There are some deviations from the novel, and while they aren’t too egregious, greater fidelity would have been preferred. Still, the story is very compelling.

The Marksman is set in the present day. Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson; yes, that’s seriously the character’s name) is an ex-marine living along the Arizona-Mexico border. One day, as he just so happens to be at a fence, a mother (Teresa Ruiz) and son (Joe Perez) being hunted by a cartel make it under. The gang arrives and a shootout leaves the woman as well as the leader’s (Juan Pablo Raba) brother dead. Learning that the boy has family in Chicago, Jim decides to get him there while avoiding the wrathful cartel.

As one can see, the concept is more or less the same as News, but problems aplenty beset this movie. There are numerous plot holes and dumb character decisions on both sides. Katheryn Winnick is utterly wasted in a side role where she does not get to demonstrate her combat prowess. The villains are scummy stereotypes that further Hollywood fearmongering while the kid is just annoying. And the whole thing ends on several notes that are entirely unearned.

But more to the point, the relationship between the protector and protected never feels like anything greater. Even with a deceased wife mentioned in the character’s backstory, the viewer does not get the impression that he sees the boy as more than an assignment. Contrast this with News, where the protagonist does come to view his charge as a surrogate daughter. There are times when he is given offers to relinquish the duty at great benefit to himself, but he declines at great risk. Marksman doesn’t have that, and can’t because the cartel wants him just as dead for killing the leader’s brother.

In this duel, it’s really no contest.  There’s one that delivers and another that’s wildly off-target.

Winner: News of the World

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