News of the World Review: Tom Hanks Helps Young Orphan in Paul Greengrass’s Slow, Old-Fashioned Western

Set five years after the Civil War, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an obsessed veteran who now earns a living by traveling from city to city, entertaining the crowd by reading and summarizing newspaper articles highlighting stories from around the world.

Realizing that his audience lacks the time or ability, think of him as an early news aggregator, exploited from a rich storytelling tradition. Kidd presents this as a way to “escape our troubles,” though the long-lasting division and psychological wounds of war — including his own — fester not far from the surface.

In the strongest example, Kidd trades in a camp where the business mogul who presides over the place wants to lie to his audience to keep them more pliable. Think “fake news,” just without a digital megaphone.

If that sounds a little awkward like the United States as it exists 150 years later, it’s no accident. Greengrass (from the films “United 93” and Jason Bourne, who previously directed Hanks in “Captain Phillips”) has a history of inserting social and political commentary into his films.

Kidd, however, is unprepared when he finds Johanna (Helena Zengel), an orphaned young immigrant child who was raised by Kiowa and speaks only their language. Attempts to seek the help of the army in finding her home prove futile, and she then takes it upon herself to shepherd Johanna back to her surviving relatives, unsure how she will receive her.

Adapted to Paulette Jiles ’novel, their journey moves at a hectic pace, an almost illegal path where they encounter kindness and cruelty – although the latter is abundant, including those that would use a child for their own ends.

Hanks delivers an excellent performance for everyone for whom he is known – second in line this year, after the war film “The Greyhound” – as a character who nurtures pain and regret. His innate decency makes “News of the World” work to the extent that it is, and the nature of the quest echoes the themes of classic westerns, including “Seekers.”

For fans of the genre, that old-fashioned feeling is something of a treat. Nevertheless, the promotional campaign does not favor the film – especially those who associate Greengrass with kinetic action scenes – as it bans one or two sequences, those who expect the kind of adrenaline they would advertise to be down.

All in all, “News from the World” is a solid but unspectacular film, which presents a famous story on an interesting historical background. It just doesn’t provide the much-needed escape from their troubles to the modern audience that Kidd promises to its crowd.

“News of the World” premieres on December 25 in selected cinemas. It is rated PG-13.