News of the World Review: Quiet Ballad of the Lost and Found – The Wall Street Journal

Posted: December 22, 2020 at 6:59 pm

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Tom Hanks gets the best lines in News of the World, playing exclusively in theaters. He does them justice, as always, but his co-star, an extraordinary 12-year-old named Helena Zengel, gets the best silences. They give the film its dimension of mystery.

The year is 1870, only a few years after the Civil War, and the place is northern Texas, where Mr. Hankss Capt. Jefferson Kidd is traveling by horse and wagon like a circuit-riding preacher, except that his gospel consists of news laced with political opinion and racy gossip. In an era when the word infotainment would have meant that the person saying it couldnt speak English, this impoverished widower ekes out a living reading broadsheet newspapers aloud in meeting halls for spectators who have each paid a silver dime to hear him.

Kidd is an affecting character plying an interesting trade thats made all the more so by his educated self-awareness; a storyteller who understands the power of stories, he also tries to be a conciliatorcan you hear Mr. Hankss calming voice?at a time when the nation is much younger and smaller than it is now, but no less bitterly divided. Still, the mans education and inherent decency cant suggest a course of action when, on the trail leaving town, he comes across a blond child with fierce blue eyes, evidently mute and obviously abandoned, who fights off his efforts to help her. (I cant resist likening her to the central figure of an all-but-forgotten masterpiece, Franois Truffauts The Wild Child, which is available on Amazon for streaming. In that film, based on historical fact, a physician in 18th-century France tries to civilize a feral boy whos been found living alone in a forest.)

Its not spoiling anything to tell you that the girl turns out to have two names, Johanna and Cicada, and a tortured history laid out in somewhat awkward expositiontaken from her German immigrant parents six years earlier by Kiowa kidnappers in retaliation for white settlers crimes against their tribe; renamed by the Kiowas and living with them until her discovery by federal authorities, from whom she recently fled. In other words, an orphan twice over. In Kidds gentler words, The little girl is lost. She needs to be home.

The director was Paul Greengrass; he and Luke Davies adapted the screenplay from a novel by Paulette Jiles. An accomplished documentarian early in his career, Mr. Greengrass established himself as an action-adventure virtuoso with The Bourne Supremacy and two Jason Bourne sequels. There isnt a lot of excitement in News of the World. In truth there isnt enough, notwithstanding a gunfight that constitutes a mini-seminar in how to stage, shoot and edit an action sequence. (The top-of-the-line cinematographer and editor were, respectively, Dariusz Wolski and William Goldenberg. James Newton Howard did the music.)

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News of the World Review: Quiet Ballad of the Lost and Found - The Wall Street Journal

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December 22nd, 2020 at 6:59 pm

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