News of the World, 118 minutes, Universal Pictures, PG-13, 2020
Director Paul Greengrass downshifts from his frenzied action film trademark (e.g., the Bourne series, among others) into News of the World, a more deliberate but nonetheless absorbing road trip across Reconstruction-era Texas based on Paulette Jiles’ 2016 novel of the same name. The driver in this predictable but well-made tale is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a well-read Confederate Civil War veteran who rides from town to town to orate the news from far and wide. On the trail he happens across Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel), a lost white girl who’s been raised by the Kiowas as Cicada. She is carrying Indian agent papers that indicate she has an aunt and uncle living on the other side of the state. Unable to get help from either the Army or a friend, Kidd decides to restore her to her family himself.
Ignorant of the English language or where she’s being taken, Johanna is at first volatile and suspicious, but the traveling companions slowly find ways to communicate with each other and form a trust. And who wouldn’t trust Hanks? He’s in his comfort zone here: Captain Kidd is fatherly, calm and still imbued with idealism and purpose even after the war years stole so much from him. Of course, he and Johanna will need to trust one another in order to navigate a road lined with bandits and cutthroats, many of whom returned from war penniless and embittered by the Army occupation. And where the outlaw country ends, the hazardous Texas wilderness begins, bringing both flash floods and blinding dust storms. Out here news travels hard.
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