Review: News of the World


Why hasn’t “News of the World” hit the big time? Where are the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Movie and Best Actor?

Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a practical but tortured man who travels from town to town having lost all that is dear. An ex-minister who fought in The Civil War, it is 1870 and he has lost his parish and his innocence. Now he reads the news in backwater towns for nickel donations. His fire and brimstone presentations draw crowds. He knows how to tell a story and how to read with climatic expression. The news, full of information and insight, is his new ministry.

But one day, riding in his one-horse wagon between towns, he comes across a recently lynched Black man that is a foreshadowing of the evil, insanity, and ignorance to come. Soon he catches sight of a little blond “Indian” rushing frantically away. Traumatized by a series of horrors, both Kidd and Johanna (the name he gives her from accompanying documents) eventually depend upon each other for survival.

Though regretfully slow-moving, “News of the World” is still a story for the whole family, filled with gorgeous vistas purportedly filmed in Texas (but actually shot throughout New Mexico). There are clever and majestic cinematographic moments for which Dariusz Wolski has been Oscar nominated.

Though both are stories of nomads, there is little other comparison to Oscar front-runner “Nomadland.” From the get-go the majestic staging of “News of the World” and the realistic, nuanced acting of Tom Hanks set the tone for an insightful film about loss and identity rather than disengagement and retreat.

Adapted from Paulette Jiles’ novel, a National Book Award finalist, “News of the World” clearly defines the bad and inspires what to do when it is encountered. Unlike “Nomadland,” retreat from the world is not an option for those with a moral compass.

Hanks appears to effortlessly portray his forte, a man of integrity, with a self-imposed mandate to protect Johanna from a world of dishonesty, violence, and opportunism.

There are contrived moments where we wonder what the scriptwriter is thinking when there is such a fine and accomplished crew and cast. There was the Indiana Jones rolling rock moment for almost comedic effect and a rather inexplicable long galloping Lone Ranger-like sequence for no known immediate crisis.

It is not a perfect screenplay, but in a year of limited theatrical activity, it is one of the best. Both the film and Tom Hanks have been sadly robbed of Oscar nominations.

Ranking: 8/10


Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Editor: William Goldenberg
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Fred Hechinger, Michael Angelo Vovino, Thomas Francis Murphy, Elizabeth Marvel, Mare Winningham, Neil Sandilands and Chukwudi Iwuhi.
Website and trailer: 

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