Reteaming with his “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass, Hanks slings the news more than a gun in the Western drama “News of the World,” set in Reconstruction-era Texas. The Oscar winner is cast in the film (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Dec. 25), based on the 2016 Paulette Jiles novel, as a former Confederate captain on a Homeric odyssey to take a young girl home, though genre tropes at times rob the film of its timely narrative punch.
Five years after the end of the Civil War, Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) travels from town to town reading newspaper articles, charging 10 cents a pop to people crowding in to hear him tell stories from across the country and the world. Imagine Anderson Cooper circa 1870 with a great beard and Hanks’ unmistakable blend of warmth and humor.
While passing through Wichita Falls, Kidd discovers an upturned carriage and its lynched Black driver, a reminder that dark aspects of the South still infected Texas at the time. Near the scene, Kidd finds fierce 10-year-old orphaned girl Johanna (Helena Zengel), who had been taken from her home six years prior by the Kiowa people and raised as one of them.