‘News of the World’ Film Review
In the corona time, with primarily only over-the-top options available, I have grown into this habit of first gathering enough information or recommendations about a movie before watching it, else it is most likely to join the ever-growing partly-watched list of flicks, except when luck favours me. I chose to watch ‘News of the World’ on the spur of the moment and, once more, I was fortunate enough to have finished a movie.
What a movie it is, indeed! But when I was done with it and was marvelling at it, it crossed my mind why was it given such an unusual name as ‘News of the World’? Is this film about today’s world? I guess in the affirmative. This is what would have been on the mind of author Paulette Jiles when she wrote the book – with the identical title – which has been adapted into the movie by director-cum-screenwriter Paul Greengrass and scriptwriter Luke Davies.
The film is set in 1870 when the Civil War is over in the United States, but northern Texas is still coming to terms with reality. After watching the movie, though, you realise that all across the world the human societies continue to face the same demons that Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) hinted at speaking to ‘orphan twice over’ girl Johanna (Helena Zengel) on the way to her lost home.
Be it the persistent war for space, or incessant struggle for life; the eternal fight for justice, or the unending peril of greed and lust – apart from these vices still plaguing our world what astounds the audience most is that the power of news and propaganda has never ceased to exist.
One can sum up the movie in one sentence remarking that it is a tale of a nobleman valiantly setting out to reunite a 12-year-old orphan-girl with her clan. But what makes the film compelling is its storyline and the way Bourne-films-fame director Paul Greengrass (he made three of the five film-series) has laid out the plot and sketched the characters.
Plus, while the evocative Tom Hanks surpasses himself evincing all emotions with the slight spin on the contours of his face, enlivening the intensity of an ordinary man’s sentiments, German actress Helena Zengel portraying the forsaken girl startles the audience stealing the show with her pithy stares and succinct silences.
The movie begins with Paul Greengrass subtly establishing his battle-scarred prime protagonist ex-Confederate Captain-turned-newsreader Jefferson Kyle Kidd getting ready for his session at Wichita Falls in North Texas. In his new occupation, the down and out widower travels around the places, reading out newspapers to the pauperized-and-unlettered people, getting a dime from each of them in return.
The news of the world that he selects for them from a range of papers is more significant. Of course, he informs them about the political issues and the tragedy of the time, but he also blends the information with the light gossips to keep them entertained. And we also get to know, later, that he refuses to peddle any propaganda.
Soon after he encounters Johanna, the girl who thinks her name is Cicada, on the way to his next venue. Kidd spots the girl hiding behind the trees frightening, while he probes a dismantled wagon and finds its Black driver dead, hanging from a nearby tree. Abducted around six years ago by the native Kiowa, who killed her parents (German settlers) in retribution, the child has forgotten her language, knows the tribal dialect only, rendering it impossible for Kidd to communicate with her.
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The girl reared by Kiowa is ferocious with strangers, but Kidd manages to pacify her and tries to hand her over to the officials so that she can return to her surviving relatives. But the officials concerned are not available and he resolves to do it himself embarking on a long journey.
‘News of the World’ henceforth becomes a road movie, entailing its ups-and-downs amid the duo’s gunfights with hoodlums, confrontations with tyrants, and the jeopardy of a dust storm.
On this ‘incommunicado’ trip, where signs and symbols remain the only medium of conversation, however, gradually a bonding builds up between Kidd and Johanna, and the protectee turns out to be a saviour. Curiously enough, they fail to explain things but still understand each other. Their discourse on progress is a scene to remember, where Kidd denotes it as a straight line, while Johanna signifies it in a circle.
Before joining her folks, Johanna traces her home where her parents were butchered and Kidd bids them goodbye. But soon he returns to find the fierce and unadoptable girl tied to a pole outside her kin’s house. Upset and worried Captain Kidd takes Johanna back deciding to become her guardian.
(‘News of the World’ is streaming on Netflix)