MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
While I have gotten used to watching films at home during the pandemic, there are some movies that would truly improve with a widescreen viewing in a darkened theater. I am absolutely convinced that News of the World is such a film.
British director Paul Greengrass chose to adapt Paula Jiles’ 2016 novel because he wanted the chance to make an American western. The book was a bestseller, filled with some memorable characters, interesting historical details, a cross country journey, and a few narrow escapes. It’s PG-13 rating made it a perfectly fine film for families with older children to see together during Christmas vacation (when it was originally scheduled to hit theaters before Covid-19 hit the world).
In theaters, I think this film could have been successful. Reduced to a smaller screen, News of the World is rather underwhelming.
Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (not a pirate), a veteran of three wars who now travels throughout Texas in the 1870s as a news reader, providing a program of interesting and timely stories from a variety of newspapers to folks in small towns hungry for a night of entertainment. Kidd is a loner, carrying in his heart the fatigue and trauma of his own personal loss.
During his travels, Kidd encounters an abandoned German girl (Zengel) who he later learns has been orphaned twice. She was taken captive as an infant by a Kiowa tribe (who killed her family) and then managed to survive an attack in which her Native American family were slaughtered. Kidd names her Johanna and – much to his astonishment – finds himself taking on the role of companion and deliverer, transporting the girl on a 400-mile journey to live with her aunt and uncle. The road is long and filled with challenges, but over time there is a growing affection and bond between the two, although Johanna only speaks German and Kiowa.
It’s rare to see a PG-13 movie with so many disturbing topics, but everything is so tastefully rendered that most young viewers will not notice the darker themes. My main problem with the film goes back to the source material and the ways in which our two travelers manage to navigate through dangerous circumstances.
The best way to describe News of the World is to call it cinematic comfort food. At its core it tells the story of a good person doing the right thing for the greater good. It’s not a great film but it’s a pretty good movie.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A pleasant story of rescue and redemption in the midst of a sometimes-brutal postwar landscape.
Four pitchforks: Mild swearing, intimations of serious violence, human trafficking, and prostitution, scenes of abusive behavior, lingering war trauma, a racist lynching.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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