Adapting a beloved book can be a tricky thing and Paulette Jiles‘ “NEWS OF THE WORLD” is no different a challenge to that here. But if we have learned one thing from films all these years, it would be that Tom Hanks would be the one who would be able to pull this off and make it along with Director Paul Greengrass, taking full advantage of our faith in Hanks acting abilities here.
In this visually phenomenal film version Tom Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who takes newspapers and then travels from one small town to another and for 10-cents admission and a sense of panache’- Kidd reads the news stories to weary people looking for a distraction. While traveling one day, he comes across a blonde hair-blue eyed young girl dressed in Native American wear who speaks no English, only Kiowa. With her caretaker having been lynched in front of her, the papers Kidd finds among her things are notes that she is 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young girl who’d been raised by Kiowa tribe and is now being returned against her will to her natural German aunt and uncle of whom she knows nothing about.
The film is all about the journey, which the captain undertakes with the girl reluctantly as the she rebels against this so hard at first, his conundrum is realizing the only guarantee of her safe return is if he takes her, and reluctantly we watch as the Captain agrees to accompany her on the journey home. In the long run it bares down to essentially being: two people, a wagon and two horses, driving through the vast nothingness. And as the two encounter numerous precarious situations along the way they begin to bond with each attempting to learn the others ways and language. Along the harrowing journey, encountering moments of true danger in almost each town they enter and every new territorial line they cross. Early on when they are cornered by a trio of swarthy men who want to ‘buy’ the girl, the tense build up that prevails and follows us throughout the journey can be dramatic and even terrifying at times, but eventually this is what will bring them together the closer as they come to the end of the journey and the pointed note of separating.
Zengel doesn’t say much throughout the film, but she has a wonderfully expressive face that speaks volumes with her eyes and it’s easy to believe that she has seen horrors. And even though this undoubtedly adds to Hanks’ performance, even as she’s saying nothing, her pain, her fear is palpable and Hanks plays well on this attribute. But make no mistake whose film this is – as the way Hanks portrays Kidd is the sort of performance that just seems written in stone for him and it’s a perfect vehicle for him and surprising in sorts to see him in a Western. There are numerous supporting cast who also help push the film along with Elizabeth Marvel, Mare Winningham, Ray McKinnon and Bill Camp to name a few. The movie itself is stirring despite there being no surprise in knowing where the story is headed once Johanna appears – and yes there are some grim sequences but overall its quite an enjoyable watch.
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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“NEWS OF THE WORLD” IS OUT ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN THEATERS/DRIVE-INS WHERE AVAILABLE AND ON NETFLIX IN JANUARY 2021