News of the World (2020)


I thought Tom Hanks was an odd choice to star in a western, but he gives a solid and likable performance from start to finish as a troubled ex-military man who stumbles across an orphan after the Civil War. Since the loss of his newspaper and press in the war, Captain Kidd has gone between towns, reading the news to curious crowds for a few cents from each of them. He takes great pride in his selection of material, from local events to national ones, updates on the presidency, and the troubles in the South. On one of these expeditions, he comes across an overturned wagon, a dead Negro, and a little white child (Helena Zengel) dressed in Indian clothes hiding nearby. He quickly figures out that the murdered man was tasked with returning Johanna to her relatives -- or at least, to another Reservation.


A passing military force advises him to take her to the nearest Indian agent, many miles off. Kidd has no real interest in babysitting a child who speaks no English, but sees it has his to do and commits to it. He finds Johanna resistant to his influence, inclined to run off, and deeply resentful of her 'imprisonment.' But as they forge difficult situations together, they come to understand each other. But he hopes to leave her as someone else's problem, sooner rather than later. Alas, the Indian agent has gone ahead of him at least a hundred miles, and the military doesn't want her, so Kidd takes it upon himself to deliver her to her family, even if it means crossing a hundred miles of dangerous territory. Along the way, they attract some unwanted attention, forcing them to learn to trust each other... even if they don't speak the same language.


I will say that MOST of this movie, I loved. There were two things I didn't, and I thought both were unnecessary. One is that Kidd has a one night stand with a woman he has known for a while; we don't see any of it, but it wasn't necessary (also, at this time, the audience assumes along with the woman who joins him in bed that he's married). The second is that it seems like in every movie, there must be a horrific accident of some sort including horses and this one is no exception. It's awful. So awful that it soured me on the next twenty minutes, before the film managed to redeem itself with the ending I wanted. That aside, it's a touching story of non-romantic affection between a man and a child, both wounded from the past, neither unable to communicate at first, and both full of their own resentments and sadness. It's a story of healing, of personal responsibility, and a man who decides to do the right thing, even though it's difficult and inconvenient, not just once but several times. The story is fair in that it shows both the sorrows of the Indians as they are rounded up and moved onto Reservations, and the miseries they inflicted on the white settlers. Johanna finds her family home, where she saw her kin murdered, complete with the bloodstains.


The film fools you for a time into assuming you won't like its resolution, but then does the thing you are hoping for. I won't spoil it for you. Hanks gives a nuanced performance as a tough but compassionate man, and Zengel is a standout. She can't speak much, so she does a lot of acting with her eyes. There's enough tension, suspense, and drama to keep you on the edge of your seat; one of the best sequences involves a hair-raising confrontation in and around a rocky outcropping, where they are being stalked with armed men and only have buckshot -- and not much of it. Johanna has a brilliant idea! I don't recall noticing the music, but I did find the cinematography beautiful. The camera isn't afraid to linger on the wild, untouched plains or the depths of a windstorm. It's touching, sad, and even subtly funny at times, everything a good western should be.


Sexual Content:

Men offer to buy Johanna and use her as an underage prostitute; when Kidd refuses, they track him intending to kill him and take her anyway. They also accuse Kidd of having sex with her in veiled terms ("you two must have enjoyed all of that alone time"), which he finds repugnant. He spends the night with a woman who owns a hotel; she enters his room, shuts the door, and unbuttons her blouse, before we see him writing and her in his bed afterward. She believes him married, because she asks when he's going back to his wife (he isn't; his wife is dead).



General profanities, sh*t, four or five uses of GD.



Men are shot and killed, without blood. We see a corpse hanging from a tree. Buffalo carcasses lay in the sun, stripped of their hides while the muscles and meat below lay exposed (wasteful). As mentioned, there's a horrific carriage in which the wagon's brakes fail, causing it to go off a cliff -- we see both the horse pulling it and the horse tied behind it tumble down the rocks. One of them is still alive at the bottom and must be shot/put out of its agony. Someone is badly beaten and nearly killed; a man causes a riot to help him escape a bad situation.  We don't see what happened to Johanna's family but hears that her mother's throat was cut and her baby sister had her "brains bashed out on the wall."




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