Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.

A poster to Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World.

News of the World (2021)

Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips (2013)).

Leads: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

Thoughts: I read the book News of the World by Paulette Jiles, and consider it a mini-masterpiece of simple story-telling and heart-warmness. Tom Hanks could make a really great Captain Kidd who has matured in difficult times to become a wise old man, but who never lost heart, kindness and goodness in the process. The trailer to the film promises an exhilarating adventure story with plenty of action, and feelings of affection developing between Johanna (the girl found) and Captain Kidd. My concern here, as with the films below, is the cast. Helena Zengel is pretty and undoubtedly very talented, but Johanna must be someone a little younger and more strikingly beautiful. The other concern is that this simple tale of human resilience, hope, friendship and devotion could be turned into something unnecessarily chaotic and “visually bombastic” through the film. Paul Greengrass may be a good “action film” director who is also brilliant at portraying history, but will he find in his film moments of quietness and simplicity to convey the true humble personality of Captain Kidd and the sheer unpretentiousness and meaningfulness of the source material? I really hope so.

Conclusion: As seen from the trailer, the film is visually impressive and Tom Hanks will undoubtedly lead the film that just through his presence will have lots of “heart”. If all the action in the film will sometimes give way to simplicity and quietness, and Zengel, in the role of Johanna, will not lock herself in just one mode of behaviour of “a savage child” , this could be a stunning, emotional film to watch.

Release Date: 1 January 2021 (UK).

Predicted Score: 8 out of 10.

A book cover to Eric Jager’s non-fiction book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France.

The Last Duel (2021)

Story: The non-fiction book on which this film is based revolves around an event in medieval France whereby a trial by combat was proclaimed to resolve a dispute between two men: a knight is to fight to the death against a squire since this squire is accused of violating the knight’s beautiful wife. The year is 1386 (a Hundred Years War between France and England), the location is Paris, and Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), a Norman knight returns from combat in Scotland to find his wife, Marguerite, accusing Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver), her husband’s old friend, of rape. To resolve the dispute, King Charles VI decrees a “trial by combat”.

Director: Ridley Scott.

Leads: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck.

Thoughts: It seems recently in particular as though the trio of lifelong friends (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck (see Deep Water below) and George Clooney (The Midnight Sky (2020)) really push to be considered as some of the most “serious” actors in Hollywood (but, I also bet it is hard to shed the life-long comedy associations and the like). If truthfully, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are not really the actors I would normally go to see in cinema, but the story here is very interesting and the fact that it is set in the Middle Ages is very appealing. This film can only be very good or rather bad. The presence of Adam Driver (Silence (2016)) as one of the leads is also very encouraging since this is the actor who is always a pleasure to watch.

Conclusion: Without seeing the trailer or reading the book, it is really hard to say whether this film will be any good, but it is set during those intriguing Middle Ages and it is also a Ridley Scott’s creation, so it got to be at least very decent.

Release Date: 15 October 2021 (USA).

Predicted Score: 7 out of 10.

A book cover to Patricia Highsmith’s thriller Deep Water.

Deep Water (2021)

Story: It is yet unclear how the script will differ from the source material, but Patricia Highsmith’s novel is about a married couple (Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) whose loveless marriage results in an arrangement whereby Melinda can have affairs with men without deserting the family. This arrangement eventually leads to an unpredictable series of events, including to possible murders.

Director: Adrian Lyne (Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Indecent Proposal (1993), Unfaithful (2002)).

Leads: Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049 (2017)).

Thoughts: First, why am I so excited about Deep Water? One of my favourite film directors, Adrian Lyne (also 9 1/2 Weeks (1986)), is returning to film-making after his 19-year absence with this film. Apart form that, I also deeply admire the literary work of Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)) whose books are always fiercely intelligent with great characterisations. I trust Lyne will do a good job with his new film because it is just the subject matter in which he excels, and, equally, Eigil Bryld (In Bruges (2008)) and Marcelo Zarvos (Dark Waters (2019) will provide great cinematography and music respectively. The problem for me here is Affleck and de Armas, who are now seem to be dating in real life. Despite Affleck’s great achievement in Argo (2012), I still cannot see him as a serious lead actor in a quality drama. On the other hand, Affleck already has some stellar experience with a similar role of a (cheated) husband in Gone Girl (2014). Nor am I too pleased with de Armas’s cast, who appears to me a relative newcomer and could only belong on a set of an action sci-fi or comedy film. I truly hope both Affleck and de Armas prove me wrong.

Conclusion: Deep Water promises to be deeply intense, psychological and erotic. Under the direction of Lyne and given a decent script, it can be a thought-provoking and rather sensual viewing experience – if the cast also lives up to the subtlety of the source material and all the great expectations.

Release Date: 13 August 2021 (USA).

Predicted Score: 7 or 8 out of 10.

8 thoughts on “Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

  1. Great write-ups. Particularly interested in your views on News of the World, and I’ve had similar thoughts myself. I haven’t read the book but the impression I get of it is much how you’ve described it, and Greengrass seems a very unusual choice. Still, looking forward to it and The Last Duel. Deep Water isn’t something I can get particularly excited about, but I’ve warmed to Affleck of late so will see it if the response is good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks! Yes, News of the World is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read since it is so simple in style and language, but so quietly, unassumingly powerful. It is just incredible really how the author managed to achieve so much, including emotionally, in such a slim book and through this completely unpretentious, simple language. On that basis alone, I bet it is very hard to adapt if they want to stay true to the spirit of the source material, that is.

      Matt Damon, Ben Affleck (and I can add there George Clooney) are not actors whose films I will be normally looking forward to watching (their filmography has always been “all over the place”), and I have surprised even myself by including the above films with them. It feels now that Damon and Affleck want “to step up” their game with The Last Duel and repeat their success with the Good Will Hunting screenplay, which they both wrote and won Oscars for it. I am sceptical, of course, but you never really know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like something I’d want to read!

        Clooney’s The Midnight Sky is another interesting one that fits in line with your comments. He wants something weighty and with meaning to bring his filmmaking career back in line. As a lover of sci-fi, I really hope he’s pulled it off.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I highly recommend the book News of the World. It completely exceeded my expectations.

          The Midnight Sky could be an interesting one as well. In my opinion the problem with Clooney is that he is George Clooney. I cannot put it any other way. Remember Cuaron’s Gravity? I mean, we all thought naturally this would bring Clooney in line with other serious actors and meaningful material, but I also recall criticising his choice for the role in that film and constantly thought about this line from one critic to describe his performance there: “Clooney plays things as if he’s still ‘Up in the Air’ [(2009)], delivering the “crammed-to-the-gills backpack” speech — way too cool for the dire circumstances”. I mean, I also like him as a person, but he cannot “reinvent” himself on screen as easily as he supposedly “reinvented” himself in his personal life. The man has just stepped out of Nespresso commercials…Bless him.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ll add it to an already too-long list!

            I am with you 100%; Clooney is Clooney and he is always going to find it hard to shake the persona. That being said, he has done it before, and it usually takes his playing a quite downbeat or downtrodden character (see Michael Clayton, The Descendants), which I am imaging he is in The Midnight Sky. I’ve also appreciated his direction in all the films of his I’ve seen, so even if the acting isn’t quite working, he’s got something else to fall back on.

            Liked by 1 person

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