Friday Film Review--"News of the World"

May 4, 2021

Tom Hanks saddles up, in a new movie that’s familiar, but also heartwarming.    Rick Brough has the low-down, for this week’s Friday Film Review.

Tom Hanks hasn’t played a Western character before.   (We’re not counting Sheriff Woody.)

But despite the historic setting, “News of the World” is another tale with Hanks as a hero, in his modest, unassuming way, holding out for decency and civilization.

The time is Texas in 1870.    Hanks plays Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kydd,  one of many lost rootless souls after the Civil War, who travels from one scruffy town to another, and, in his Sunday best, reads the latest newspapers to his captivated audiences.

The news items usually concern epidemics, floods, other routine disasters.    But the Captain also will highlight bizarre, human-interest stories.    Maybe he invented News of the Weird.

One day, a fatality along the road results in the Captain being forced to take care of a young girl named Johanna.     Her German immigrant family was wiped out by Indians, and after being raised by the Kiowa for six years, he considers herself a native.

You’ve seen this story before, about the bond that grows between a crusty adult and a moppet who is cute, if challenging.        The formula works, thanks to the unconventional setting and the humanity brought to their roles by Hanks and an amazing 12-year-old German actress, Helena Zengel, who conveys a variety of moods and emotions, though she is either mute, or speaking a different language, for virtually the whole movie.

Paul Greengrass previously directed “United 93” and “Captain Phillips”, which starred Hanks.

Although the movie is basically a character study of two people, Greengrass also captures the sweeping, violent backdrop of Texas in the depths of Reconstruction.    There are many pirates walking this land, though they don’t include, fortunately, Captain Kydd.

Among the dramatic episodes, a local tyrant at one settlement demands that the Captain only present—well, let’s call it fake news—to his audience.     And the Captain and Johanna have to fight off a band of child-nappers, resulting in a bravura gun battle on a craggy mountainside.

On our “cowboy-up’ scale, “News of the World” gets a four out of five.   For the Friday Film Review, I’m Rick Brough.