By Laurie Coker
Tom Hank’s News of the World blends relevant themes, rich storytelling, and remarkable characters into an awe-inspiring Western for the ages. Written by director Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies from Paulette Jiles’s novel, News of the World demonstrates what true storytelling can provide in more ways than one. There are beauty and revelation in even the bleakest images from stark landscapes to the filthy townships, and even in sordid and varied people who inhabit this film. Its pace is subdued, but never dull or boring. Intensity comes in each encounter whether it is threatening or intimate.
Hank’s play Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Union soldier and veteran of three wars, who travels the nation reading the news to settlers and townspeople all across the great state of Texas and beyond. His travels are hard but the dime-a-person he gets for telling tales pays his way. This is perhaps one of Hanks’ best performances – Kidd is hardened yet compassionate and when he discovers an orphan, he begins to shed his deeply-rooted pain – and Hanks captures every single emotion – outstandingly.
His charge is Johana, and while she speaks few words, young German actress, Helena Zengel’s expressive face perfectly revels the fear, passion, pain and suffering inflicted on her character, a child taken by the Kiowa people and raised as one of their own. After her Kiowa family dies too, Kidd finds her hiding. His plan then is to hand her over to soldiers who will find her a home. His efforts fail and he sets out to deliver her on his own. Neither the Captain nor Johanna speak each other’s language, but they figure out a means of communication as they set out over treacherous terrain building a bond that runs deep. This talent actress manages to pull an even more exceptional performance from her seasoned co-star. Yes, this little girl is a star.
New of the World offers a history or sorts, but its general theme lies with an honest man navigating a shattered world, trying to spread his own quiet decency by informing and amusing others. His effort makes changes beyond entertainment, like when he and Johanna perform is a small remote town controlled by a nasty boss, and the news shifts the town folk toward freedom. The imagery draws on the unrest of the times. Not all is somber, shootouts in rocky precipices, terrifying wagon disasters, a great wall of dust, men seeking to own Johanna for nefarious reasons and other hindrances frame the film’s moral messages.
Hanks will certainly get award nod for Kidd. He and the film evoke a sense of righteousness and more deeply, hope. The dark intensity of the circumstances Kidd and Johanna find themselves make the film relevant and emotionally exciting. With the look and feel of an old-school Hollywood Western, News of the World earns an A+ in the grade book. It is a worth addition to the genre.