We open in Wichita Falls, North Texas, 1870, on a wet, western scene. Civil war veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) has returned to announce the latest news. There are some items of concern as the meningitis epidemic is spreading. As he travels from town to town, delivering more news announcements, his storytelling skills become ever more apparent and admirable. At one point in his travels, he comes across a wild girl (Helena Zengel), dressed in native American clothing. With no one else to care for her, Kidd reluctantly heads out across the western landscape to bring her to her aunt and uncle. But this is a time and a terrain loaded with perils...
Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks have worked before on the thrilling and surprisingly harrowing 'Captain Phillips.' Greengrass also helmed three chapters of the Matt Damon-starring Bourne series (including its best one, 'The Bourne Ultimatum'). Thus you can assume 'News of the World' is in good hands. Taking on another true story, the director and actor ably deliver, and while it admittedly lags a bit towards the finish line, the film makes for a generally enjoyable watch.
In a world before information was accessible through the swipe of a phone screen, it's pretty fascinating to see the way news was spread in the past. An individual would travel from town to town announcing items on such topics as health, government, and transport developments (a new railway line gets a big reception). Meanwhile, the audience reacts with cheers, shouts, groans and indignant complaints, which one supposes isn't really all that different to nowadays.
Kidd tries to be neutral but does share his take at times (sure, that's the media for you). You admire his drive to enforce strength and encourage optimism in his listeners. Hanks in the role is his warm, good-hearted self. Mind you, there is one sequence where his character is doing this noble deed and cinematically, it's all well and good, fitting the character, but you can't help but think, why is he taking this stupid, completely unnecessary risk?
Greengrass effectively captures the threat and violence of these times, when women and girls are only valued for one thing. There's a terrific shootout scene that comes a little before the halfway point, which is probably the standout. One wishes action featured a little more frequently. In any case, the ending fits its generally optimistic tone, and young German actress Helena Zengel makes a terrific debut.
'News of the World' is streaming on Netflix from 10 February.