Review: Oscar-winner Tom Hanks headlines ‘News of the World’

“News of the World” stars Oscar-winner Tom Hanks as a Civil War veteran transporting an orphaned white girl that was adopted by Native Americans in an unforgiving post-war South as they encounter armed and dangerous men, and rugged terrain on their way to reunite her with her biological relatives.

"News of the World" is the feature film adaptation of the 2016 novel of the same name and was also named one of the 10 best films of 2020 by the National Board of Review. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — A grizzled and soulful Tom Hanks stars in “News of the World,” and the two-time Oscar-winner takes audiences on a journey through the post-Civil War South.

The new movie playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter was released theatrically on Christmas Day (and is also available now at home with streaming on demand).

RELATED: Now showing at Lakes 12 Theatre

Hanks stars as Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former member of the Confederate infantry who travels from town to town reading newspapers for the mostly illiterate townsfolk in 1870.

He stumbles upon an overturned wagon during his travels and finds a white girl who was adopted by Native Americans after they killed her family but then were in turn slain by whites.


Tom Hanks' Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd uses a horse-drawn wagon like this one in his new film "News of the World" to transport an orphaned girl across hostile terrain in an attempt to reunite her with her surviving relatives during the years after the Civil War. Photo by Larry Costales on

The twice-orphaned girl is frightened, confused and doesn’t speak English, and takes some convincing by the ever-patient and paternal Kidd to come along with him, at least temporarily.

Kidd begrudgingly decides to escort the 10-year-old child, whose given name is Johanna and is played by flaxen hair newcomer Helena Zengel, and return her to biological aunt and uncle.

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The journey to her only surviving relatives is beset by a variety of obstacles or challenges, both natural and man-made, not to mention potentially fatal encounters with those along the way.

“She needs to laugh and dream. She needs … new memories,” Kidd explains to a former Confederate infantryman who questions why the veteran would accept responsibility for her.



The new movie from Universal Pictures is rated PG-13 and most of the violence depicted in the two-hour film involves firearms such as shootouts but nothing explicitly gory or over the top.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter offers private movie screenings

The widowed Kidd is still suffering from post-traumatic stress five years after the Civil War as he takes Johanna across the sparsely populated and at times unforgiving but scenic Texas plains.

The motion picture is based on the National Book Award finalist and best-selling 2016 American Western novel by Paulette Jiles. Fans of the book will like the film as it sticks closely to the plot.

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It is evidently a journey of self-discovery but also more, such as white, Mexicans and Native Americans attempting to find their place in the brave new world with few rules and danger.

For example, at one point a trio of unsavory characters approaches Kidd after one of his newspaper readings and offers to buy Johanna, given her fair skin and questionable citizenry.



“She needs to laugh and dream. She needs … new memories.”

— Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, "News of the World"

The unrelenting leader of the group pursues the duo and a shootout ensues that oddly is the bonding catalyst between the vexed Kidd and mostly mute child who outwits their pursuers.

Johanna is a child of two cultures who must figuratively navigate her way between the two to eventually find her own identity and voice even though she is confused and reluctant at first.


Likewise, the battle-fatigued Kidd seeks to find some solace in enlightening the uneducated with his news readings yet at the same time seeks some kind of absolution for his actions in combat.

The critical consensus of “News of the World” at Rotten Tomatoes, a movie ratings aggregating website, is “‘News of the World’ takes a slow but absorbing ride down a comfortingly familiar Western trail, guided by Tom Hanks in peak paternal mode,” and it has an 88% approval rating.


Directed by Paul Greengrass from a script he co-wrote, “News of the World” may not rank among the best of Hanks’ impressive films, but the talented actor makes any movie better.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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