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With: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Fred Hechinger, Bill Camp, Thomas Francis Murphy, Gabriel Ebert, Benjamin Farley, Winsome Brown, Neil Sandilands, Clay James, Cash Lilley
Written by: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies, based on a novel by Paulette Jiles
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language
Running Time: 118
Date: 12/25/2020

News of the World (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'News' Freed

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Paul Greengrass slows down his usual urgent, frenetic handheld camerawork for News of the World, a stirring, lyrical Western that captures a deeply divided nation, as well as the humanity that keeps it going.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) travels the countryside, reading the latest newspapers to paying customers. It's 1870, and the Civil War has only recently ended. On the road, Capt. Kidd finds a hanged body, and then spots a young girl hiding in the bushes. He finds her paperwork and discovers that she was taken as an infant by the Kiowa people. He tries to arrange to have her taken home to an aunt and uncle, but the job winds up falling to him.

With the girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel) speaking no English, and Capt. Kidd unsure of how to take care of a child, their adventures begin. They face everything from a murderous band of thugs to a sandstorm and a dangerous authoritarian who pushes "fake news."

At its essence, News of the World is old-fashioned, including a deeply humanistic performance by one of the great movie stars. Hanks's work here stems from pain as well as kindness. Zengel is amazing as Johanna, wild and cunning, and suggesting both Mattie Ross from True Grit, and Grogu from The Mandalorian. They are the movie's center, and, as they travel along the road, other characters move in and out of the periphery.

The most striking and terrifying is Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy), who offers grim parallels to modern times. He asks Capt. Kidd to read from his self-published newspaper containing made-up versions of his exploits. (Kidd reads the real news instead, and gets into trouble for it.)

Greengrass, who also directed Hanks in the powerful Captain Phillips, lets the story of News of the World unfold as it should, with Capt. Kidd and Johanna forming a bond, but expertly views it through a grittier lens. This old West is not romanticized. The landscape is sometimes harsh and sometimes helpful, but it always feels honest.

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