On paper, this simple tale well-told may not seem like it amounts to much, but, at the end of months in which comfort was hard to find, this movie sometimes feels like a gift. It is an aesthetically striking film with gorgeous vistas, and one of the best scores. There’s an attention to detail in every corner of this movie, including not just the period recreation but also Tom Hanks’ subtle performance.
Here Hanks plays a traveler in Texas in 1870, not long after the end of the Civil War. Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a newsreader, someone who travels from town to town and literally gets paid to read the news to the locals. Home delivery wasn’t a thing 150 years ago and many people in these small towns couldn’t even read, so they relied on people like Kidd to tell them what’s going on in the world. The chosen profession has made him something of an isolated wanderer, but it’s also imbued a deep humanity in Kidd that has given him the air of an old-fashioned storyteller. He’s an entertainer as much as an informer. His travels and encounters also mean he can read people better than most, which will be essential for the next chapter of his life.
That starts when he comes across the scene of a murder. A Black driver has been hanged from a tree and a blonde girl looks at Kidd from the woods nearby. Kidd decides to take the girl he names Johanna to safety, even though she speaks no English and appears to have spent much of her young life in the captivity of Native Americans. She comes from German lineage but speaks Kiowa, and she was being taken to the authorities after the tribe who raised her was killed. Kidd realizes he will have to find this orphan a home.
USA 2020, 118 min, rated PG
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Based on News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Neil Sandilands, Michael Covino, Fred Hechinger, Mare Winningham & Thoma Francis Murphy