Review: Tom Hanks' 'News of the World' doesn't deliver

Tom Hanks plays a newsman in post-Civil War Western

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

With "News of the World," grab-you-by-your-throat filmmaker Paul Greengrass (the "Bourne" films, "United 93") has made his sleepiest movie to date. It's also his most earnest, and it's not surprising the two go hand-in-hand. 

Tom Hanks, whom Greengrass previously teamed with on 2013's heart-racing "Captain Phillips," plays the (fantastically named) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War vet who goes from town to town reading the news to the poor, the illiterate and anyone else willing to cough up a few nickels to hear what's going on in the world. He's an early version of a news anchor, an orator of truth, or at least whatever is written on the page in front of him.

Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel in "News of the World."

No sooner do we meet Kidd are we introduced to Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel), a young blond girl who has been abandoned along a dusty trail somewhere outside of Wichita Falls. She's of German descent but has been raised Kiowa, so Kidd is unable to communicate with her, and vice versa. But Kidd being Hanks — which is to say the walking embodiment of good — he makes it his mission to deliver the child to safety, and "News of the World" becomes about their journey and the bumps along the way. 

"News of the World" is an old-fashioned, on-the-road Western, with Kidd sworn to protect his young passenger. He's occasionally called on to go into hero mode, and he's makes for something of an unconvincing gunslinger; even with his war background, it's unlikely the aging Kidd (Hanks is 64) would be able to dismiss his younger foes so handily.

More pressing modern issues of the nature of news and the power of propaganda take a backseat to the rather typical story of the bond that grows between Kidd and the kid, which Greengrass (who co-wrote the script, which is based on Paulette Jiles' novel) never bothers to make all that interesting. Hanks can of course find the humanity and decency in anyone he's called on to play, and he does that here, but it's in service of a story that starts out sluggish and never picks up. In short, it's a slow "News" day.

'News of the World'


Rated PG-13: for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language

Running time: 118 minutes

In theaters Friday