Adapted – and extensively altered – from Paulette Jiles’ eponymous novel, Paul Greengrass’ western drama News of the World follows Tom Hanks’ Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran who travels around Texas, reading the news to the illiterate populace for a pitiful salary.
Encountering a lynched Black man on the road, Kidd finds himself minding a young girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), whom the man had been transporting back to her family, after she had been held captive by indigenous Kiowa people. Kidd eventually decides to take her himself, fending off threats en route.
Hanks is as affable as always – sometimes too much so given the surroundings – and finds a more than capable co-star in Zengel. The film’s most resonant moments arrive as Kidd reluctantly helps Johanna confront her raw trauma in a visually restrained but emotionally potent way, and as she not-entirely-surprisingly helps him deal with his own past demons.
Harking back to the pre-revisionist era of westerns, Kidd’s journey of personal redemption evokes 1956’s under-seen 7 Men From Now, and there are visual references to The Searchers and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.
However, it also conjures problematic tropes from that same era, reducing the Kiowa presence to stereotypes; there’s even a 'noble savage' moment. The heartfelt conclusion is also undermined by a simplistic build-up, albeit not enough to diminish the fine lead performances.