Wagons West for the Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass western.
“News of the World” is the first collaboration of Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass since “Captain Phillips,” which made my list of the best films of 2013. This time, it’s a western that reports the news in the old fashioned way, and features a connection between two different people. In this case, it involves a Civil War vet and a child who’s convinced she’s a Native American. It’s a fascinating chemistry that leaves you with tears.
Based on Paulette Jiles’ novel, “News of the World,” the movie made me wonder what would it look like if Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather read the news to people in the Old West. And seeing Hanks do it in every town is absolutely amazing. It’s not just the news reports, but also the environments the characters come from and reside in.
Set in 1870 Texas, The Civil War vet is a former printer named Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), who travels from town to town reading the news of the world to a crowd of people. He comes across a little German girl (Helena Zengel), whose family was killed, and was taken by the Kiowa people. She doesn’t have much memories of what happened. That’s why she thinks and acts like a Native American, and that’s why she eats with her hands instead of a spoon at a local inn. He must deliver her to her aunt and uncle. He names her Johanna, although that’s not her real name. That would be Cicada.
There are some obstacles along the trek, including a group of bad men (led by Michael Angelo Covino from “The Climb”) who want the child, a racist town leader (Thomas Francis Murphy) who wants Kidd to read his town’s newspaper, and a massive dust storm. And when they’re not dealing with obstacles, they’re learning to bond with each other.
Some of the action sequences look silly and fast-paced, but there are still a lot of thrills that reminds you of the classic westerns like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “True Grit.” Believe me, it is fun for the good guys to use coins for bullets against the bad guys.
Outside the action, the connection between the two main characters takes its delicate steps as one learns to deal with the customs of another. Hanks never ceases to amaze me, and his strengths and weaknesses bring out the best of his character. And Zengel makes an impressive American movie debut as the kid, when she commits to her character with very little dialogue and more Native American behaviors. She does speak in both German and Kiowa, but eventually she’ll learn to speak English. I’m talking about the character, of course.
Greengrass delivers on a sentimental western with sincere emotions, a sense of spirit, and gorgeous locations. He guides the leads on the right path, and with some help from co-writer Luke Davies, they have stories to tell. “News of the World” isn’t obligatory, and it isn’t generic. It’s a daring western that keeps you glued to the screen, and has you rooting for the characters on their journey.