"News of the World," | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
We’re in for a treat on Christmas Day when “News of the World,” debuts in theaters. How marvelous to see Paulette Jiles' National Book Award winner come to life, starring Tom Hanks as Capt. Kidd.
Jiles’ admirable protagonist accepts a responsibility that tests the 71-year-old veteran soldier, most recently of the Civil War. Once a printer, the captain now travels in Northern Texas delivering news gathered from publications. People pay a dime to hear his presentations.
On his travels, Britt, a free black man seeks him out. He's caring for a 10-year-old girl taken captive by the Kiowa tribe when she was 6, in a raid that killed her parents and sister. Johanna has scarce memory of her immigrant roots — she doesn’t speak German or English and has little grasp of frontier life, preferring to sleep on the floor, rather than a bed. Wearing a dress is foreign to her too.
Capt. Kidd agrees to take Johanna from Wichita Falls to a locale near San Antonio, at the request of her aunt and uncle, who’ve offered a “50-dollar gold piece” for her return. The duo sets off on a journey in a wagon Capt. Kidd purchases. Along the way, Johanna must be watched so she doesn’t run away.
What sets this story apart is the budding relationship between gentle, but firm, Capt. Kidd and Johanna, as they face danger in the Texas territory. Readers will question the definition of “civilized,” just as Capt. Kidd does, his affection for Johanna deepening as their journey continues.
It’s a theme subtly presented in a story that’s quiet, unpretentious, yet emotionally charged and unforgettable. If the movie is half as good as the book it's going to be a hit.