[Screen It]


(2020) (Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel) (PG-13)

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Western/Drama: A former soldier turned newsman who travels from town to town reading newspaper stories from around the world ends up having to transport a twice-orphaned young girl, who doesn't speak English and views herself as a Native American, across the dangerous West to relatives she doesn't know.

It's 1870 and with his Civil War days behind him, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (TOM HANKS) makes a living traveling from town to town in the West reading newspaper stories from around the world to paying customers. He's a good storyteller, but his livelihood is interrupted when he comes across young Johanna (HELENA ZENGEL) by an overturned carriage and with her black driver hung from a tree.

Learning that her original family was murdered by Native Americans who kidnapped her only to be killed themselves years later, Kidd wants to get her to the authorities and then go on his way. But when he learns that it will be weeks before anyone in the military can deal with her, he decides he'll take it upon himself to deliver her to her relatives who she doesn't know.

The only problem is that she doesn't speak English and views herself as a Native American, and their destination is several hundred miles away, meaning they must travel some potentially dangerous roads to get there. And that comes to light when they encounter a man named Almay (MICHAEL ANGELO COVINO) who'd like to buy the girl from Kidd for child prostitution, and later Farley (THOMAS FRANCIS MURPHY), a powerful businessman who's created his own kingdom in the middle of nowhere and doesn't like trespassers.

While contending with them, Kidd and Johanna end up bonding in ways neither could imagine, all while continuing their quest to deliver her to family.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Imagine the days of old when those delivering the news had the responsibility of telling the truth as their word was usually the only one. Of course, unscrupulous types realized the power such reporting wielded and almost certainly bent the facts -- or made them up entirely -- to serve whatever their needs might be.

I've also often wondered how such news givers -- long before the advent of the Internet, TV, radio, and such -- received the latest news and then dispersed that. I guess the folks of Jamestown circa the early 1600s weren't exactly up to speed with the news of the world until the latest supply ship arrived from England.

Things changed, of course, with the creation and then deployment of the telegraph in the 1840s as well as railroad expansion into the West, and that allowed newspapers to get news from afar without the much slower and not always reliable horseback couriers.

All of which is the background context of "News of the World," a winning drama mainly due to the presence of Tom Hanks playing the most trusted newsman of Texas around a century before Walter Cronkite would take on that moniker for all of America. In the film -- based on Paulette Jiles' 2016 novel of the same name, and directed by Paul Greengrass from his and Luke Davies' screenplay adaptation -- Hanks brings his trusty everyman persona to the character of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. He's a Civil War veteran who travels from town to town reading articles he's selected from various faraway newspapers.

His gift -- beyond getting people to pay for his services when they could just get the paper themselves -- is in the storytelling where he pulls in, engages, and captivates his audience through his delivery and, well, his very Hanksian essence. I, for one, would pay to hear Hanks do just this, so it's no stretch to believe those too busy or less educated would be drawn to him and his tales.

Likewise, it's no stretch of the imagination that should such a Hanks inhabited character encounter a girl who's been orphaned not once but twice, he'd put his needs aside and do what he could to protect her and get her to some haven. And that's exactly what occurs when he comes across young Johanna (a terrific Helena Zengel) by an overturned carriage and her black driver hung high from a nearby branch.

The only problem is she doesn't speak English, he doesn't speak her adopted Native American dialect, and the Army isn't going to do anything to help. Accordingly, he decides he'll deliver her to her aunt and uncle, even if that means traveling hundreds of miles through treacherous terrain and with potential dangers lurking about.

What follows is a "get to know you" road trip flick of sorts (via horse-drawn carriage, of course) that's interspersed with various complications, setbacks, and encounters with dangerous sorts. And, natch, Hanks' Kidd has his own set of personal demons with which he must contend, mostly related to his wife and his time in the war.

It's possible this tale could have worked without Hanks, but he brings so much of his trustworthy, everyman essence to the character that viewers probably will have a hard time looking away or losing interest, what with the goodwill the actor has built up over his career and other good deeds.

I have no idea if the story idea of people traveling from town to town reading the news in the post-Civil War days is factual, but it's certainly not fake news to report that Hanks along with his chemistry with young Zengel make this offering work from start to finish. Featuring strong performances and excellent tech work all around, "The News of the World" is good and rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed December 8, 2020 / Posted December 25, 2020

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