News of the World is a 2020 American Western 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 Helena Zengel. The film follows an aging Civil War veteran who must return a young girl who was taken in by the Kiowa, and raised as one of them, to her last remaining family. She has lost both her birth and Kiowa families.
News of the World was released theatrically by Universal Pictures in the United States on December 25, 2020 and on DirecTV, and grossed $12 million. Internationally, the film was released by Netflix in other territories on February 10, 2021. It received positive reviews from critics who praised Hanks and Zengel's performances as well as the cinematography, musical score, and Greengrass's direction. At the 93rd Academy Awards, the film received nominations for Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Sound. Zengel received nominations for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Confederate officer who served in the 3rd Texas Infantry, makes a meager living traveling from town to town in Texas and reading newspaper stories to local residents for an admission fee of ten cents. After departing Wichita Falls, Kidd comes across an overturned wagon on the road and finds the driver, a black freedman, had been lynched. He also finds a young white girl who calls herself Cicada and speaks Kiowa. Kidd learns from the girl's paperwork that she is Johanna Leonberger, who had been kidnapped and adopted by Kiowa six years earlier. Union Army troops discovered Johanna while dispersing a Kiowa camp and she was being taken to her living aunt and uncle by the freedman. A passing Union Army patrol instructs Kidd to take the girl to Union officials at an outpost in a town up the road. Kidd has little choice but to acquiesce.
At the town, Kidd is informed that the outpost's Bureau of Indian Affairs representative will be unavailable for three months. Kidd initially plans to leave Johanna in the care of friends Simon and Doris Boudlin, but accepts responsibility for returning the girl to her family in Castroville, some 400 miles away, after she recklessly tries to run away with a band of traveling Native Americans during a storm. In Dallas, Kidd stops at a local inn run by Ella Gannett, an old acquaintance who speaks Kiowa and learns that Johanna's adoptive Native American family was also killed, making her "an orphan twice-over." After reading the news the next night, Kidd and Johanna are accosted by three ex-Confederate soldiers who want to purchase Johanna from him. Kidd refuses and flees with the girl, but the men pursue him into the wilderness. Despite being outgunned, Kidd is able to kill the men after Johanna points out that the dimes Kidd earned from his work could be used as makeshift ammunition for his shotgun.
As the pair continue their journey, their wagon is wrecked and their last horse fatally injured when Kidd loses control on a steep road. Kidd and Johanna proceed on foot. After enduring the heat and a blinding sandstorm, they encounter a traveling group of Kiowa who give Johanna a horse. Saved by that gift, Kidd and Johanna eventually reach the Leonberger farmstead. Kidd reluctantly leaves Johanna with her aunt and uncle. He then continues to San Antonio to visit the grave of his wife Maria, who had died of cholera while he was away serving in the Army, for the first time. As he bids farewell to Maria, Kidd realizes that Johanna had become family to him, and rides back to her and apologizes for leaving her behind. Johanna's aunt and uncle permit Kidd to raise Johanna. Later, Captain Kidd enthusiastically reads the news to an audience in a large hall with Johanna's assistance, and Kidd introduces her as his daughter, Johanna Kidd.
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. Filming commenced on September 2, 2019, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kiowa Tribe member Dorothy WhiteHorse coached Zengel in the Kiowa language and other details of Native American life and behavior, while Tribal Chairman Matthew Komalty praised the film's crew for their attention to accuracy.
In November 2020, Netflix bought the international distribution rights to the film (excluding the United States). Helena Zengel dubbed herself in the Italian, German, French and Spanish versions; the dubbing is limited to the lines she spoke in English.
News of the World was theatrically released by Universal Pictures in the United States on December 25, 2020 and on DirecTV, which was followed by a Premium video on demand (PVOD) release in the United States on January 15, 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 released it digitally on its streaming service on February 10, 2021. On March 2, 2021, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment officially announced that the release date for News of the World to physical media, including Blu-ray Disc, 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, and DVD, would be March 23, 2021. In the United States, the film was released on HBO/HBO Max on September 4, 2021.
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 theaters 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.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 271 reviews of the film were positive, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "News of the World takes a slow but absorbing ride down a comfortingly familiar Western trail, guided by Tom Hanks in peak paternal mode." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich gave the film a grade of B and said, "If Greengrass' broadly entertaining (if gallingly relevant) film is a bit too soft and spread thin to hit with the emotional force that it could, so much of its simple power is owed to the grounded nature of the director's approach, which allows these desperate characters to feel as if they're trying to escape the very genre that threatens to define them forever."
A. O. Scott of The New York Times gave a mixed review, writing that "this isn't a bad movie. The problem is that it's too nice a movie, too careful and compromised, as if its makers didn't trust the audience to handle the real news of the world."
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