News of the World, rated PG-13
News of the World is a slow moving, though beautifully filmed western, which features solid acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Though the film received four Oscar nominations (sound, production design, original score and cinematography), I found it to be too slow and predictable to recommend.
The film was directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93), who worked with lead actor Hanks in Captain Phillips. The screenplay is by Oscar nominee Luke Davies (Lion), and is based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
The film is set in 1870, a few years after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Tidd, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), is a veteran of three wars, including the Civil War. He is a decent, but lonely man. He speaks of a wife in San Antonio. He rides in a wagon from town to town in Texas dramatically reading from newspapers the latest news of the day to gatherings of people who are willing to pay a dime to hear it.
As he is in transit between towns, he comes across a wagon on its side. He sees a man who has been hung, and he notices a blonde-haired girl running away.
He determines from papers he finds in the overturned wagon that the 10-year-old girl is Johanna Leonberger, played by Helena Zengel (who received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film). Captain Tidd is not able to communicate with the girl, as she doesn’t speak English. He eventually finds out that the girl was taken in by the Kiowa people six years earlier and raised as one of their own. Her Kiowan name was Cicada, but he never calls her by that name.
Captain Tidd goes to the nearest town so he can arrange for the girl to be returned to her family. However, the person in charge of that will be gone for three months. He asks a family to watch her for that time while he continues with his news-telling work. When that doesn’t work out, he decides to take the girl himself on a 400-mile journey so that she can live with her dead mother’s sister and her husband. It is a dangerous journey as they travel in a wagon with a horse trailing behind. As they encounter danger after danger along their route, the two, though they initially cannot communicate at all, begin to develop a bond. Part of that bonding is the fact that both suffer from a sad past.
The film moves along very slowly, with Kidd and Johanna being the primary characters. The cinematography of the Texas landscape from Dariusz Wolski, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the film is impressive. The acting performances of the lead characters were solid. Unfortunately, the film moves along too slowly and the story is a bit too predictable.