News of the World

Traveling through the Southwestern United States healing from civil war in 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) encounters a lynched Black man and the terrified, very blond 10 year-old girl (Helena Zengel) he was escorting who only speaks Kiowa, Indian agency papers explaining her plight.  At Red River Station, he’s directed by a soldier to deliver her to the next outpost, but the military man on duty there informs him that as their Indian emissary won’t return for three months, he’ll have to return the girl to her family himself as he goes from town to town to read “News of the World.”

Laura's Review: B+

Cowriter (with Luke Davies)/director Paul Greengrass ("United 93"), adapting Paulette Jiles' novel, reunites with his “Captain Phillips” star for an old-fashioned Western with elements of “The Searchers.”  There is nothing revolutionary about the film, strangers with a communication barrier on a road trip to an uncertain destination studded with dangerous obstacles forming a bond, but it is beautifully executed and steeped in humanity. 

Kidd is the late nineteenth century version of news anchor, someone who brings global, national and local information from the most current printed papers he can find from town to town, delivering it in as entertaining a manner as possible for a small fee.  At first, he is determined to continue with his job, finding a couple willing to foster the girl until the proper official returns, but when she takes off in a wild storm attempting to reunite with the Kiowa, Kidd rescues her and decides to deliver her across Texas to her aunt and uncle himself.  We gradually learn about Kidd’s sad past through the eyes of Johanna Leonberger who has no idea of her own native history, having been kidnapped by the Kiowa at the age of four, named Cicada and brought up as one of their own.   The two begin their journey in a horse-drawn carriage, Kidd teasing out Johanna by attempting to teach her English.

In Dallas, Kidd stops in with Mrs. Garrett (Elizabeth Marvel, “Swallow”), the local widowed innkeeper who provides another level of comfort to the bereft widower.  She also speaks enough Kiowa to make a connection between Kidd and his charge, conveying Kidd’s intent to help.  But Dallas is also where they cross paths with Almay (Michael Angelo Covino), who doesn’t accept Kidd’s refusal to sell him the young girl and who follows them into the vast landscape where they are more vulnerable.

This sets up the film’s best sequence, where Johanna’s clever resourcefulness surprises and where trust must be established in fighting a common enemy.  The encounter costs them their carriage among other things, adding to the trials of their journey.  Greengrass uses these more common obstacles to slow down and build the relationship.  Not everything works, an extended scene of translation one of unnatural wordiness, but Hanks and Zengel convince, her antagonism relaxing into his compassionate patience.

For a film whose narrative follows expected paths, “News of the World” offers several surprises, like realizing this is Tom Hanks’ first Western, and Greengrass has given him a perfect Hanks vehicle, one suited to the actor’s strengths.  Those used to the director’s usual hyperkinetic style will find him working with more classical restraint here.  Zengel is beautifully cast, the very picture of German immigration exhibiting feral caution, a keen intelligence and a natural way with Kiowa language.  Greengrass has shepherded a handsome production, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian”) favoring widescreen vistas of the Old West.  James Newton Howard’s score celebrates this natural majesty while commenting on its hidden threats yet also yearns for home.

Robin's Review: B

Wichita Springs, North Texas, 1870. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) survived three wars and now travels from town to town to bring the news of the state, country and other nations to the information-starved public. When a 10-year old white child, captured by the Kiowa’s years ago, lands in his care, he agrees to take her home, even if it is against her will, in “News of the World.”

There is a good story here about the bonding of an older man, a loner, to a young girl, long estranged from her “people.” That story, from director Paul Greenglass and Luke Davies adapting the novel by Paulette Jiles, is a solid adventure and budding-buddy road movie that benefits nicely from Hanks’ playing off of his costar, Helena Zengel, as his towheaded companion.

The story covers the 400 mile journey to return the girl, Johanna, to her aunt and uncle. What transpires, besides the bonding of the two loners, are a series of obstacles, natural and human-made, that are presented to the resourceful odd-couple. While those obstacles can be intense and life-threatening, they never lead me to believe anything but that the Cap and Johanna will be OK.

Of course, it is the getting “there” that is the meat of “News of the World” and, though well-telegraphed, the obstacles the two face are palpable and you really root for the weary travelers. There is a very nice chemistry between Hanks and his diminutive co-star who, though saying little, speaks volumes. The “News…” belongs to them both.