Back in the early days of the coronavirus, when we heard that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, on location in Australia, tested positive for COVID-19, a cry could be heard round the world. How could Hollywood’s essential decent man, in every role, and his image in person, be so vulnerable? Playing Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran in 1870, in Paul Greengrass’s latest movie, “News of the World,” Hanks inspires one thought: he’s everything you’ve ever loved about him and more.
Maybe with Joe Biden at the helm, decency has increased cache: Capt. Kidd, coming upon a rogue child, a doubly traumatized blond 10-year old he calls Johanna in the woods (the superb German actress Helena Zengel), takes it upon himself to bring her home. America is still the wild west, and much of this trip through harsh landscapes chased by desperadoes, is beautiful to look at, yet harrowing. Having been a newspaper man in San Antonio prior, Capt. Kidd now travels town to town delivering “news of the world” in performance. You can see the blatant connection between media and entertainment as folks gather to hear him. Unlike other showmen, Kidd is dedicated to telling “truth” stories read from newspaper headlines; and, facing his own sense of judgment, he has a dark secret for which he must atone.
Surely, “News of the World,” a Christmas gift, will be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, with actor nods for its leads. I would also look to supporting roles, cameos by Bill Camp—so good, most recently in The Queen’s Gambit, Mare Cunningham—great in the recent Broadway production, Girl from North Country, and Elizabeth Marvel who brings her own mature sexy zing.
In a post screening interview this week, director Greengrass spoke about the connection between those times and these, our “news of the world” being a pandemic that requires we know as much as possible to survive. And Helena Zengel spoke about coming to America for the first time, learning the language of the Kiowa tribe, and her work with Tom Hanks who, in compassion, cried with her when she cried, even when the camera was all on her.