Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass, I like your stories.
“I like your stories” is a bit of dialogue, uttered at a pivotal moment, that carries great meaning in “News of the World,” the terrific Christmas Day release starring Hanks and directed by Greengrass, who also helmed the Hanks showcase “Captain Phillips” in 2013.
Hanks is Civil War veteran Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a living traveling from town as a sort of journalist, reading from various newspapers and bringing to his audiences … well, you saw the title. The crowds love his energetic delivery – sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic, depending on the story, and the stories he selects.
Kidd sees the people around him live with violence, poverty, cruelty and racism. He brings a bit of literacy and light into an environment that can be incredibly bleak.
One day, while he makes his way to another town and another performance, for that’s really what it is, he finds a little girl named Johanna Leonberger (the marvelous Helena Zengel.) She lived with a Kiowa family for some time, until soldiers killed them.
Her biological parents are dead. Kidd takes it upon himself to take the girl to the home of her aunt and uncle in Castroville.
Their lengthy journey is not an easy one, with threats lurking nearly every turn of the wagon’s wheels.
This is one of the greatest performances of Hanks’ career, and that’s saying a lot. Kidd grapples with guilt and loneliness, and we see that emerge with the character’s every action. Although he is not obligated to take care of the little stranger, Hanks lets us know his inner core of goodness tells him it’s what he should do in a world that otherwise might be even harsher than the one she’s already known.
As for Helena, you haven’t seen the last of this 12-year-old German performer. She’s outstanding, and has an A-list future as a performer ahead of her.
Tremendously entertaining and thoughtful, it’s about a bright spot in a weary world. Don’t we all need that right now?
4 out of 4 stars
Rated: PG-13 for violence, foul language, sexual situations and other adult themes.
Running time: Two hours.
At Cinemark, Davenport, and Palms 10, Muscatine, and other theaters.