Describe This Movie In One Mars Attacks! Quote:
PRESIDENT DALE: Why can't we work out our differences? Why can't we work things out? Little people, why can't we all just get along?
Brief Plot Synopsis: Mainstream media tool hangs around with underage girl.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 Kelly Freas robots out of 5.
Better Tagline: "Used to be there was money in newspapers."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) ekes out a living traveling across Texas and reading newspaper stories to the locals for ten cents a head. But his placid lifestyle is upended when he happens upon Johanna (Helena Zengel) a young girl abducted by the Kiowa as a baby and recently freed. Reluctantly, he decides to deliver her to relatives some 400 miles away, even though she'd rather return to her other family.
"Critical" Analysis: Tom Hanks's career spans four decades and you can count on one hand the number of — we can't even call them "villainous," let's say "less than savory" — roles on the fingers of one hand. Maybe not even more than a couple fingers, depending on your opinion of Walt Disney.
Which is not to say Captain Kidd belongs on that list. At least, that wasn't the attention of author Paulette Jiles or director Paul Greengrass. Sure: he fought for the Confederacy, but he surrendered when the time came and appears distressed when he comes upon a lynched Black man, so that's cool.
The main takeaway of News of the World is how typical of the genre it is. Human settlements are depicted in squalid browns and grays, giving way to vibrant colors when the characters exeunt to the wilderness. Greengrass also eschews the moral relativism seen in more modern Westerns, Kidd and his allies are white hat exemplars, set against the scummier (and batshittier) elements of the Old West, represented by a wannabe child abductor (Michael Covino) and a wannabe demagogue (Thomas Francis Murphy).
Kidd is also more of the same for Hanks. There's no real darkness about him, and he seems relatively untouched by his time in the war. As is often the case in his movies, the evil and insanity in the world are no match for the protagonists and the inherent goodness they bring out in others.
Johanna's inability to communicate with her escort at least gives Kidd plenty of opportunities to monologue, and through these interludes we learn about the wife he left in San Antonio (sounds like a Joe Ely song) and that he's a decent fellow, but not stupid. We also glean snippets of Johanna's past, and to say the youngster has had a rough go of it is — to put it in German parlance — vorsichtig ausgedrückt.*
The rapport between the two is touching, however, and Zengel does a shell-shocked expression well enough to sell the bond that develops between her and the Captain. News of the World still traverses a predictable path, with moments like her miraculous improvisational weapon-smithing skills falling into place like a pair of well-traveled wagon wheel ruts.
But the movie looks great. Greengrass captures the spectacular vistas of the West (New Mexico subbing for Texas ... boo), only slightly glossing over the postbellum squalor. It's nearly enough to offset Kidd's constant encounters with disgruntled Southerners chafing at Union rule. Besides, it's not as if there are parallels to be found in modern Americans demonstrating distrust of the media or refusing to accept a defeat.
Back to Hanks. There's a moment in News of the World when Kidd attempts to reconcile recalcitrant Texans with the new order, and because it's Tom Hanks, it works. But given his long string of playing hapless underdogs, it's not out of the question to see Kidd as a Reconstruction-era Joe Banks who never had the time or luxury to develop ennui, yet still tries to come to grips with his past by taking charge of his future.
Only without the volcano. Or three Meg Ryans. Okay, maybe it's a stretch.
News of the World will screen in select theaters on December 25 and available via VOD on January 15.
*Putting it mildly.