News of the World (2020)


Introduction

News of the World is a 2020 American Western drama film co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles, and starring Tom Hanks and introducing Helena Zengel.

The film follows a Civil War veteran who must return a young girl who was stolen by Native Americans as an infant to her last remaining family.

Outline

In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a former member of the Confederate Infantry who now makes a living travelling town to town reading newspapers for the populace for ten cents per person. Following one such evening of news reading, Kidd sets out for his next location when he encounters an overturned wagon on the road. Dismounting to investigate further, he encounters a lynched black man and a young white girl named Johanna who is dressed in Native American clothing. After an encounter with a Union Army patrol, Kidd is instructed to take the girl to Union officials at a checkpoint in a town up the road where they will sort out her Bureau of Indian Affairs paperwork and see to it she is returned to her surviving family. Reluctantly, Kidd acquiesces to the request.

At the Union checkpoint Kidd is informed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs representative is on the reservation and will be unavailable for three months. Seeking shelter with a former Confederate infantryman, Kidd reads the news and upon returning, begrudgingly accepts responsibility for returning the girl to her surviving family. As the two set out they attempt to find common ground, but neither one has much success in communicating with the other. This is further compounded at the next stop, when Kidd is confronted by three ex-Confederate soldiers turned criminals who express an interest in purchasing the girl from Kidd. Kidd refuses, but the three men pursue, leading to a shootout in the wilderness during which Johanna and Kidd overcome obstacles to work together for self-preservation.

At the next stop, Kidd encounters a radical band of militia working to “cleanse” the county from “outsiders”. Kidd is contracted to read the approved news from the town’s leader, but instead opts to read from a different paper about a group of coal miners who rally against a cruel man whose refusal to abide by safety standards put his miners in jeopardy. Kidd’s story incites civil unrest, and ultimately results in Johanna gunning down the town’s leader and rescuing Kidd. In the aftermath, Kidd and Johanna join a wagon train bound for a town with the railroad line before veering off to locate Johanna’s surviving family. During the journey Kidd’s wagon is destroyed, leaving Johanna and Kidd to continue on foot until the pair encounter Kiowa tribesmen from whom Johanna is able to obtain a horse.

Kidd and Johanna eventually reach her aunt and uncle’s farmstead, the former revealing that Johanna’s parents had struck out on their own and moved to hill country where the land would be cheaper; this led to them being killed in a Kiowa raid. Kidd reluctantly leaves Johanna (who is resistant) with them, and returns to San Antonio. His wife, Maria Luisa Betancourt Kidd, died from cholera in 1865. Now without any kin, he visits the mission where she is buried, and mournfully leaves his wedding ring and locket containing her picture on her grave.

Kidd then rides back to the village where he left Johanna, where he finds her tied to a pole, her belligerent aunt and uncle explaining that she refused to work and would instead run off. Asking forgiveness, Kidd tells Johanna (in Kiowa) that she belongs with him. Johanna accepts; her aunt and uncle reluctantly let them go. In an epilogue, Kidd reads the papers at another pulpit, with Johanna helping out on sound effects and bearing a new name: Johanna Kidd.

Cast

  • Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd.
  • Helena Zengel as Johanna Leonberger/Cicada.
  • Michael Covino as Mark Edgefield.
  • Fred Hechinger as John Calley.
  • Neil Sandilands as Wilhelm Leonberger.
  • Thomas Francis Murphy as Merritt Farley.
  • Mare Winningham as Jane.
  • Elizabeth Marvel as Ella Gannett.
  • Chukwudi Iwuji as Charles Edgefield.
  • Ray McKinnon as Christopher John “C.J.” Kidd.
  • Bill Camp as Willie Branholme.

Production

In May 2017, Fox 2000 Pictures bought distribution rights to an adaptation of the Paulette Jiles novel with Luke Davies writing the screenplay and Tom Hanks set to star. In February 2019, Paul Greengrass was announced as director. As a result of the Disney/Fox merger, the film was transferred to Universal Pictures. In August, Helena Zengel, Michael Covino, and Fred Hechinger were added to the cast, and Thomas Francis Murphy joined in September. In November 2020, Netflix bought the international distribution rights (excluding the United States) to the film. Filming commenced on 02 September 2019, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Release

News of the World was theatrically released by Universal Pictures in the United States on 25 December 2020 and on Netflix in other international territories, which was followed by a Premium video on demand (PVOD) release in the United States on 15 January 2021. It originally was going to be released by Fox 2000 Pictures. In November 2020, it was announced that Netflix had acquired international distribution rights except for the United States and China and would release it digitally on its streaming service.

It received positive reviews from critics who praised Hanks’ and Zengel’s performances, Greengrass’ direction, cinematography and score.

Box Office

In the United States, News of the World, released alongside Wonder Woman 1984, Promising Young Woman, and Pinocchio, was projected to gross around $4 million from 1,900 theatres in its opening weekend. The film made $1.05 million on its first day, and went on to debut to $2.3 million, finishing second at the box office behind Wonder Woman 1984; 70% of the audience was over the age of 35. The film fell 25% in its second weekend, grossing $1.7 million, then made $1.24 million in its third weekend.

Trivia

  • Helena Zenge said she had never heard of Tom Hanks before she had been cast in the role, that “I think I’d seen the ‘Da Vinci Code’ before, but I didn’t know who he was. I thought it was just some actor”, according to an article in the New York Times on 12/30/2020.
  • This is Tom Hanks’ first western film, though he has played a western character previously providing the voice of ‘Woody’ in the “Toy Story” franchise.
  • This is the second time Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks work together- the first was in the movie ‘Captain Phillips’.
  • Mare Winningham and Tom Hanks worked together on Turner and Hooch in 1989.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Paul Greengrass.
  • Producer(s): Gary Goetzman, Gail Mutrux, and Gregory Goodman.
  • Writer(s): Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies.
  • Music: James Newton Howard.
  • Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski.
  • Editor(s): William Goldenberg.
  • Production: Perfect World Pictures, Playtone, and Pretty Pictures.
  • Distributor(s): Universal Pictures (US) and Netflix (International).
  • Release Date: 25 December 2020.
  • Running Time: 118 minutes.
  • Rating: PG-13.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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