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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

News of the World (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Fred Hechinger, Bill Camp, Neil Sandilands, Thomas Francis Murphy, Chukwudi Iwuji, Michael Angelo Covino, Christopher Hagen, Tom Astor, John Travis Johnson, Andy Kastelic, Jeffrey Ware, Chris Bylsma and Justin Tade.

Screenplay by Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies.

Directed by Paul Greengrass.

Distributed by Sony Classics Pictures. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.

In a modern internet world where we expect our news delivered immediately, it’s interesting to remember that it may have been once delivered by the like of Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd. According to News of the World, Captain Kidd was a Civil War veteran in the Old West who left his wife behind (under somewhat murky circumstances) and hit the road to make a living by going from town to town reading the news for anyone who had 10 cents and the time to listen.

Now I don’t know for sure if this was a legitimate occupation in the Old West or just made up for the 2016 novel this film was based on by Paulette Jiles, but it feels real. It was also a rather brilliant idea, so if it didn’t really happen, it really should have.

The farmers and ranchers and pioneer folk had busy lives. Many areas didn’t have easy access to a newspaper. Many of the people couldn’t read even if they found one. In the dusty saloons and town halls where Capt. Kidd did his readings, it became a community event – an opportunity for the area to get together.

Tom Hanks feels like an ideal performer for the role, a mixture of the subtle and the grandiose that is right in the actor’s wheelhouse.

Captain Kidd recognized that his calling was not merely informational – though he did try hard to inform – it was also entertainment for people who had extraordinarily little leisure in their lives. He became something of a showman, picking stories which were particularly dramatic (and usually with a happy ending) and reading them in a sly, grandiose, and cleverly humorous manner. He read from newspapers that were often weeks or even months old, but it was still a window to the outside world for people whose lives were mostly extremely limited in their scope.

It’s a fascinating idea for a character and a fascinating concept for a film. However, it is not a plot, per se, and therefore News of the World has to downshift into a more standard western mode, which is intriguing in many ways, but feels less interesting than its hero.

While on the way to a reading, Kidd finds a black government officer who has been lynched after his coach was overturned. Nearby Kidd finds a wild blonde girl (Helena Zengel) – whose family was apparently killed when she was a toddler, and she was raised by the local Kiowa Indians. She only speaks the Indian language and has vague some memories of her immigrant family’s native German tongue.

Kidd finds the slain officer’s orders, to return the girl – whose given name is Johanna, though she prefers to go by her Kiowa name Cicada – to her aunt and uncle in Texas. She is nearly feral, but Kidd wins her confidence and gets her to come with him to the Army to help get her to her long-lost family. The Army has no real interest in helping, so Kidd decides it is his duty to take her home, even though it is a long journey, and he had no interest in returning to Texas, which has ghosts for him.

Still, they hit the trail, facing dangerous terrain and bad men. They eventually learn how to communicate with each other rudimentarily, gaining trust and even learning to care for each other.

Like I said, despite the unique character at this film’s core, it is a fairly rudimentary storyline. News of the World is somewhat reminiscent of a more serious take on the western classic True Grit, or even more similar to an old-west variation of the Depression-era set film Paper Moon.

News of the World does sometimes use its setting in the past to comment on the modern world. A stop in a small company county is particularly pointed in its criticism of Trumpism. The county is run by a rich landowner who uses fear of outsiders, violence, intimidation, income disparity and fake news to keep his townspeople in line.

Though he was a Captain in the Confederate Army, Kidd seems rather progressive in his beliefs in human rights.

However, that was a small part of a much larger vista. News of the World is a return to the old school technicolor westerns of old, a reminder of how harrowing and physically and mentally draining frontier life can be. It moves a little bit slowly – mostly at a gallop and not a trot – but it has some fascinating characters and several rather exciting moments in which the main characters survive danger.

I enjoyed the film greatly, and yet I must admit that had they not even brought in the character of the little girl, I may have enjoyed it even more. This is not in any way to slight Zengel, who did a terrific job in an awfully hard, nearly wordless role. I just think that Kidd didn’t need to be saddled (no pun intended) with a child to make his story worth telling.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: March 23, 2021.


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