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Review: News Of The World With Tom Hanks


Tom Hanks is going to be a captain again. The last time Hanks teamed up with director Paul Greengrass, it was for the movie "Captain Phillips," where he played the resolute skipper of a hijacked freighter. Now the two have joined forces to make "News Of The World." And while Hanks is once again playing a resolute captain, critic Bob Mondello says it's a very different kind of movie.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's a few years after the Civil War, and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living, traveling from Texas town to Texas town reading newspapers to settlers for a dime a head, or as one of them says to him midway through the film...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) So they pay you to tell stories. I ain't never heard of that as a thing a man could do.

MONDELLO: I'm guessing he's not alone. Where settlers got their news is an aspect both of the Wild West and of journalism that I'd never thought about. And now that director Paul Greengrass has brought it up, I confess - I'm intrigued.


TOM HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Now I know how life is in these parts - working in trade sunup to sundown, no time for reading newspapers. Am I correct? Let me do that work for you.

MONDELLO: The reporting that Captain Kidd reads from post-Civil War newspapers 150 years ago is exactly what you'd expect from a period of social turmoil, or at least that I'd expect after living through the last few years of social turmoil - stories of racist violence, of distrust of immigrants, of a lengthy national conflict that the authorities have declared over, but that certain folks in the South - and specifically in Texas - are not quite ready to let go. And the very first story he reads is about a virus.


HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) The meningitis epidemic continues to spread without prejudice across the panhandle and North Texas region. So far, it has claimed 97 souls.

MONDELLO: So, OK, got my attention. Deep in the story, Captain Kidd even visits a community of secessionists led by a guy who sniffs at mainstream media, preferring his house brand of alternative facts.


HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Mr. Farley has been kind enough to supply me with a copy of his own journal. He's an editor and a publisher, a businessman, a lawgiver - and all of you fine folk working for him.

MONDELLO: This all fits well with the stories that director Paul Greengrass has previously sandwiched between his popular "Jason Bourne" thrillers - issue-oriented dramas like "Bloody Sunday" about the Irish troubles, or "United 93" about 9/11. But this is not one of those. It's a Western...


MONDELLO: ...Where social relevance is window dressing for a story that involves Captain Kidd with an actual kid, a 10-year-old wild child he encounters near an overturned carriage in the woods.


HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Stop. I'm not going to argue. You have a name?

HELENA ZENGEL: (As Johanna, speaking non-English language).

HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) I don't speak Kiowa.

MONDELLO: He finds her transit papers near the overturned carriage.


HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Says your name is Johanna Lamberger (ph). Indians took you when they attacked your family six years prior. Your mother, father and sister were - well, they passed.

MONDELLO: Captain Kidd, who's played warmly by Tom Hanks, and the kid, who's played by Helena Zengel, a slow-to-thaw-but-winning-once-she-does newcomer, prove a resourceful pair on an odyssey that takes them through hundreds of miles of beautifully shot Texas terrain. If you're a Western fan, you'll recognize that there's a bit of "The Searchers" in this story of a man coming to the aid of an abducted girl, though without the racism of that John Wayne film. Native American characters here tend to be commanding, quiet and helpful. There's also a bit of "True Grit" in the story, though without the constant drinking of that John Wayne film, which is to say, there's a lot that's familiar and conventional in "News Of The World" to go with little tugs of something more interesting in its premise. Savor the tugs. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.