News of the World is based on the Paulette Jiles’s bestseller by the same name. The story follows a sixty-something curmudgeonly widower, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a traveling newspaper reader. Captain Kidd entertains and informs townspeople–some of whom are illiterate– in small communities all over Texas: for the price of a silver dime. The year is 1870, five years after Reconstruction, and Texans still are disgruntled by their defeat after the end of the Civil War.
In the opening scene a Black man has been lynched and a ten-year-old blonde white girl (Helena Zengel) is hiding from Union authorities looking for her. The girl speaks only Kiowa, the language of the tribe who has raised her after killing her parents and her older sister in retaliation for the government’s land grab of their territories. She yearns to be with her Kiowa family.
At the insistence of the Union authorities Kidd reluctantly assumes responsibility for returning the girl to her German immigrant relatives, a task the girl resents. Kidd feels ill-equipped to accompany her there, a trip of several hundred miles, while continuing his itinerant life as a newspaper reader. But this is no ordinary Western and Kidd and the little girl he calls Johanna have challenges in establishing communication and trust in each other.
News of the World is marketed as a Western involving a horse-and-wagon road trip in a fight for survival in inhospitable, unwelcoming regions of the Texas Panhandle. But primarily it is a feel-good “old man and little girl” story of human decency and the need for family. Both Tom Hanks–who is made for this role–and Helena Zengel who performs the feat of conveying all of her angst without uttering more than a few words of English, Kiowa or German–make News of the World a gift for the heart.
Availability: Paid “theater” ticket for streaming.