It’s been a while since we did one, but the new Tom Hanks movie is billed as such, and we watched this on Netflix at the weekend. News of The World (2020) directed by Paul Greengrass and based on a novel by Paulette Giles, is set in 1870, during the reparation years following the Civil War. The plot is actually quite simple and straightforward. Hanks plays Jefferson Kyle Kidd a former Captain in the Confederate Army, who now travels from town to town reading the local and global new to people in church halls or saloons and they pay 10 cents to come and hear him. On one of his travels he comes across an upturned wagon and a hanged black soldier and then in the bushes finds a young white girl (Helena Zengel) who is wearing Native Indian clothes and can’t speak a word of English. Her name turns out to be Johanna, and she was captured by the Kiowa when she was very young after her family were killed, and now she has lost her Kiowa family. Kidd takes her to a Union station to see about getting her back to an aunt and uncle from her previous life but they can’t help. Kidd decides he has to take her himself. It’s a 400 mile trek so that’s a bit of a PIA for him, but he can work the towns along the way.
So basically we have here a Western road movie, and the focus is on the relationship between Kidd and Johanna. Hanks embodies the weariness of Kidd, his eyesight is failing and he has been away from his wife for a long time, but he is stoic and stable and kind. Zengel has been rightly lauded for her performance in the movie. Johanna is sad, sulky, feisty, scared, smart, vulnerable and good hearted, and Zengel shows it all in her expressions and in her eyes. Both Zengel and Hanks build their respective characters slowly up to a great relationship. Initially their inability to communicate makes that a difficulty, but bit by bit they get there. It’s not a slow film though, Greengrass balances out the relationship building with the action at a steady pace. There’s plenty of stuff to sort out along the journey. Kidd and Johanna have to work together to overcome several instances, and there are shoot outs, criminals, racist militia and the destruction of their transport all conspiring to prevent them reaching the relatives farm. Even then all is not necessarily well.
We really enjoyed this movie. Having done documentaries and movies on the civil war recently, we got more out of it as we knew about the dreadful times of the reparation, and there are some scenes at the beginning of the movie that touch upon the resentment that still endured between the Union and Confederate peoples. Filmed in New Mexico, the landscapes and scenery are stunning, miles of beautiful landscapes and Greengrass uses it well. The supporting cast all do a great job, but this is a Hanks and Zengler movie, the old and the new, and a combination well worth watching.
Fraggle Rating. Top Notch.