Tom Hanks’ NEWS OF THE WORLD Makes a Daring Move in a Politically Correct World
By Movieguide® Staff
Editor’s note: This is a portion of our review for NEWS OF THE WORLD. For the full review, click here.
NEWS OF THE WORLD is an unwieldy title for a terrific, heartfelt classic movie Western about a loner trying to do the right thing against all odds. The story is about an ex Confederate captain in a Texas regiment, who ekes out a living reading the news for a few cents from small town to small town, being saddled with a young German girl who was captured by the Indians so long ago that she can no longer remember German or English. He has to get her to her relatives days away from where he finds her.
The movie opens in Wichita Falls, Texas with Captain Jefferson Kidd putting his shirt over his scarred torso to go perform by reading the news with passion to a jam-packed room of Texans in 1870. He scares everybody by reading about the meningitis plague where 97 people have died in Texas. He calls them poor souls.
As he’s traveling, he sees an overturned cart with a black man hanging in a tree. Tracking down some noise in the woods, he finds a young blonde haired girl who can’t speak English because she had been captured years ago by the Kiowa Indians. On the black man’s body, he finds the court papers directing the black man to deliver the girl to her nearest relatives.
Just at that moment, some Union soldiers appear. After verifying that Captain Kidd isn’t a threat, they head back to Wichita Falls. Captain Kidd reports that he surrendered at Galveston, Texas after serving in the Third Texas Infantry during the Civil War. He mentions he has a wife he hasn’t seen in five years in San Antonio. He asks the soldiers to return the girl. They say they can’t do so for three months. When the Army rejects the girl, whom the papers call Johanna, he tries to give her to two friends of his, a man and his wife, but they refuse when Johanna causes a commotion.
So, Captain Kidd takes Johanna with him on the broken down buckboard given by his friends to see who he can give her to take to her only relatives. Not only have storms and floods made the journey treacherous, but he stops in towns to read the News of the World to make a little money.
When they reach a boarding house where the landlady knows him well, she surprises him by speaking Kiowa and finds out that the girl thinks her Indian parents, who were killed by the Union soldiers, were her real parents. She also thinks her real name is Cicada. The landlady evidently spends the night with Captain Kidd, but even so still she refuses to take the girl, who’s angry, frightened and throws tantrums. Nothing sexual is shown, but the landlady is in his bed while Kidd sits at a desk preparing his readings.
Outside the boarding house, Kidd meets three unscrupulous men who say they’ll buy the girl for sex trafficking. Kidd refuses, and they start beating him up until the Union soldiers show up.
Captain Kidd quickly takes off with Johanna in the buckboard his friends lent him, but the meets three unscrupulous men catch up with him in a rocky canyon. There, he has to fight off the three of them while rescuing the girl, who turns out to be more resourceful than he knew. As she puts a mudpack on the wounded horse, she sings a song in Kiowa about his bravery protecting her from the three men.
Soon, however, they are surrounded by more ruffians led by an evil buffalo hunter who has many people working for him killing and skinning buffaloes. One young man who works for the head of this operation says that the greedy buffalo hunter killed his parents, so he had to work for him.
The buffalo hunter boss demands that the Captain read the news and gives the Captain his newspaper, which talks about the boss’ great exploits as a buffalo hunter. The Captain starts to read the news and then switches to a paper talking about a coal mine in Pennsylvania where a fire broke out, killing several men. The miners rose up against the owner who refused to take care of the mine properly. During his reading, the large crowd of buffalo hunters are getting drunk. The Captain’s reading inspires the people to break out in rebellion against their evil boss. In the process, the Captain gets away with Johanna.
As soon as they get into the hill country, (which my family settled by the way in the 1800s), they realize they’re being tracked by the Kiowas. The girl, Johanna, runs away from the Captain, and he follows to find the few log cabins where her German family was slaughtered by the Kiowa.
As they travel down a steep hill, the wagon starts to fall apart. They barely survive and try to walk across the inhospitable desert land without even enough water. In the midst of this, Johanna leaves him again, finds a band of Kiowa, and they give a horse to her for the Captain.
The question remains, will they make it to her aunt’s home in the hill country? Will they survive the rest of the perilous journey? Will Captain Kidd ever get back to San Antonio?
Putting aside the reality of what Texas and the hill country look like, which I know well, the story in NEWS OF Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, NEWS OF THE WORLD is a classic, fascinating western about sacrifice and love triumphing in the midst of a sinful world. Captain Kidd mentions he was once a preacher. He communicates to Johanna, in the face of her adopted Kiowa belief in the cyclical nature of history, that the biblical view says history is a straight line that leads to a better world. He mentions at one point to a friend who hasn’t seen him for years that he feels cursed for the killing and other things he did for the army. The answer, of course, is that he’s forgiven, and that all of the trials and tribulations are the nature of the world, the flesh and the devil (this answer as well as the other biblical points aren’t stated in Christianese, however). That said, the movie does present other content such as the exploitation by the buffalo hunter and even some of the news items that Captain Kidd reads that violate are in contrast to his sense of justice and his compassion.
It is interesting that the hero is a former Confederate soldier, a daring move in a politically correct world. It’s also interesting that several statements by the Texans about the exploitation by the Yankees is also politically incorrect. The violence of some of the Indians rings true to me because one of my great aunts was captured as a child, partially scalped and, when she finally escaped years later, she could no longer speak English and had to be re-educated.
There’s a tremendous amount of jeopardy and violence in NEWS OF THE WORLD, although it’s not grotesque, what we call porno violence. It does show blood, scars, beatings, shootings, killings, etc. There’s also some foul language by the crowd and by the villains. Finally, there’s drunkenness and a hint of sex outside of marriage.
Therefore, NEWS OF THE WORLD is a movie that older children, such as young teenagers, should watch, but MOVIEGUIDE® gives it a strong caution, because like movies like SCHINDLER’S LIST, it has some strong content.