News of the World (M) - 120 minutes
In a nation ravaged by war, a former printer travels through Texas – going from town to town on horseback – to read the news to eager townsfolk.
It is 1870 and that man is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), who having fought in the Civil War (1861-65) only to see his printing works destroyed, realised he had to find another means of making ends meet.
To that end, he left behind his wife and set off, collecting newspapers on his travels.
In return for modest compensation, he began reading handpicked stories that shocked, excited and absorbed his appreciative audiences.
One day, riding out from Wichita Falls, he chances upon an upturned wagon.
In close proximity is an African American hanging by his neck from a tree branch.
Running from Captain Kidd is a young, frightened, blonde haired white girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who, it turns out, has seen and borne a great deal of heartache and anguish in her short life.
The now 10-year-old was originally the daughter of Germans, who were killed.
Subsequently, she was raised by Indians, who were also slaughtered.
Further, she speaks no English, just the Indian language Kiowa, that Kidd cannot understand.
In the belongings strewn about the upended carriage are papers tying Johanna to a German aunt and uncle some distance away.
The captain resolves to turn her over to local authorities, so they can seek out her extended family, but lack of appropriate personnel to do so scuppers that notion.
After a further trial, Kidd resolves to personally deliver Johanna to her relatives.
Along the way he encounters obstacle after obstacle, on what turns out to be a dangerous “road trip”.
Gradually, a wary Johanna – who is at first keen to run away at every opportunity – builds trust in Kidd, while he warms to her. She is not only smart, but a quick learner.
Paul Greengrass has directed and co-written News of the World with Luke Davies (Lion), from a 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
There is no shortage of adventure and peril involved in the story arc, which speaks to the deep divisions in America at the time.
An undoubted feature of the piece is the vast open countryside, as beautifully captured by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (The Martian).
Hanks is always a fine choice around whom to build a yarn. He is able to inhabit his characters like few other actors and so it is here.
News of the World is all the more compelling because of his virtuoso and measured performance.
The dog-eat-dog existence around Captain Kidd is evident throughout, as chapter after chapter is played out.
Johanna’s unique “look” makes her stand out from the crowd. Further, she is the only child seen in the film.
Zengel takes a deliberate standoffish approach to her representation.
While you may well pick where News of the World is heading, you still want to ride alongside Captain Kidd to experience the highs and lows.
Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.