It shouldn’t be news to me by now that Tom Hanks is one of our best American actors, but he proved it for me all over again in his newly released film NEWS OF THE WORLD. Hanks stars as battered Civil War veteran Captain Kidd.
Moving peacefully from town to town, Kidd sets up his lectern in local barns and reads key items from the world’s newspapers to the battered, dusty citizens of Texas.
In today’s world of smartphones and 24/7 media onslaught, it’s jarring to see people reveling in every word of Kidd’s presentation.
In his travels, Kidd finds 10 year old Johanna, stolen from her parents as a four year old by the Kiowa people and raised in their world. She’s terrified of Kidd and the land away from the only people she’s ever known.
The film follows the odd pair on a dangerous journey across hundreds of miles of America that’s still treacherous five years after the end of the Civil War. The country is split and battling for position on their beliefs (sound familiar?) and every road holds danger.
Hanks is excellent as Kidd. A gentle, broken man who’s clearly held positions of power but is now just surviving, we see glimpses of a life and a wife left behind. Hanks brings depth to gazes and silent passages that are beautifully photographed. Newcomer Helena Zengel is excellent as Johanna. Torn between two worlds and trusting no one, her Johanna is a child who’s lived too much horror.
If it all sounds like a boring character study, remember that it’s written and directed by Paul Greengrass, whose Bourne films set the modern standard for action.
Greengrass isn’t afraid to let the film unwind at a quiet pace but when it moves it MOVES. When a trio of dangerous men desire Johanna, Kidd and the girl escape town with a short head start which turns into a mad chase into the desert and a white knuckle, armed faceoff in mountain cliffs.
A strange city in the grasp of a thief is explored, towering dust storms blow across the plains, towns are filled with too many cattle to count and masses looking to survive.
Elizabeth Marvel (True Grit, Lincoln) is excellent as Mrs. Gannett. She provides room & board to Johanna and Kidd, as well as one of the film’s best scenes in a quiet night with Kidd that reveals more background to the former soldier’s life.
Marvel’s real-life husband Bill Camp (Joker, Jason Bourne) has a powerful scene later in the film with Hanks as a close friend of Kidd’s who hasn’t seen him since the start of the war.
Wrapped in James Newton Howard’s sweeping score, THE NEWS OF THE WORLD is a powerful, enjoyable western drama. It feels 100% authentic in capturing a time in which our country was torn in two. Hanks and Zengel are a hell of a pair and their journey is definitely one worth taking.
It turns out that there’s no one I’d rather hear read the news than Tom Hanks. Why am I not surprised? NEWS OF THE WORLD gets an A.