Arts & Leisure

“News of the World” travels slow

TOM HANKS and Helena Zengel star in “News of the World” from Universal Pictures.

By Jim Tortolano

Not all good movies do a good job of riveting your attention.

“News of the World” checks all the right boxes.  A top-notch performance by Tom Hanks. Check. Appealing little girl. Check. Cultural/political subtext. Check. Lots of great scenery. Check. A lot of shooting. Check.

However, it’s only at the end of this western film that you are really pulled into the emotion of a story which fails to engage your imagination. Although we like the conclusion, there was never any doubt as to how it would finish.

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, whose occupation in post-Civil War Texas is to roam the Lone Star State reading from newspapers to audiences of locals who pay a dime to learn about the outside world.

On his travels he runs across a young girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who had been kidnapped by Kiowa natives, who killed the rest of her family. She’s rescued by soldiers, but her escort taking her to live with distant relatives is also killed.

Of course, Kidd/Hanks takes her under his wing, and they start a 300-mile trek in his rickety wagon. Along the way they encounter bureaucracy, traffickers in human beings and unpredictable prairie weather.

Of course, they bond because Johanna is an amazingly resilient and clever (and cute) girl, and Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks. Can you ever imagine him playing a villain?
Paul Greengrass has directed a visually impressive film and co-written the screenplay, based on a book by Paulette Jiles. But the pace is plodding, and the next crisis is telegraphed too often. Danger, literally, waits at every bend in the road.

With the cinemas closed, we are grateful for any new movies. “News” is welcome on that basis,  but it won’t have a prominent place in the filmography of Mr. Hanks.

“News of the World” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, smoking and a child in danger.

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