News of the World
Paul Greengrass’s latest film, starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, a former Confederate soldier eking a living reading the news to largely illiterate folk in the wild west, is pleasing to the eye but fails to light a fire in the soul. It’s a redemption tale, kicking off when Kidd finds a blonde girl dressed in Indian clothing cowering by the hanged corpse of a black man. How many images of inequality in one scene is that? Kidnapped by the Kiowa after massacring her family, brought up to be one of them, only to be doubly-bereaved when her new family is slaughtered by vengeful Texans, Cicada, or Johanna as she was christened, is one angry and confused young lady, mesmerisingly portrayed by young German child star Helena Zengel. Kidd, a decent man facing demons of his own, agrees to deliver Johanna back to her surviving relatives. So traumatised is she that, if and when she speaks, it is only in Kiowa and, occasionally, long-forgotten German. Not the chattiest of travelling companions but somehow they rub along and form a bond.
Despite being set in the bloody and dangerous aftermath of the US war of independence where tribalism, racism and banditry are all rife, Greengrass draws parallels with modern day America. The fictional town of Erath is led by a big-mouth redneck who owns his own newspaper and has enslaved all the townsfolk until Kidd reads them some real news (albeit of a human interest nature) …a good dig at fake news and you-know-who.
One western-style chase scene notwithstanding, for the most part the movie rolls along like the archetypal waggon-train heading for journey’s end. Hanks effortlessly plays the good man set on doing the right thing. Somehow it misses the mark, failing to be an archetypal western while not quite succeeding being the art-house movie it is aspiring towards. Having said that, I can see that dedicated movie fans of that genre may well disagree with my opinion!