Christian Movie Interviews, News and Reviews

4 Things to Know about News of the World, Tom Hanks' Pro-Adoption, Historical Film

  • Michael Foust Crosswalk Headlines Contributor
  • Published Dec 23, 2020
4 Things to Know about <em>News of the World</em>, Tom Hanks' Pro-Adoption, Historical Film

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a Civil War veteran with a unique profession. He travels from town to town, reading newspapers for the public.

That may sound strange, but in 1870 rural Texas, it fills a void for a hard-working people who live far from the big city. In these parts, news travels slow, by horseback.

Thus, these Texans regularly gather together and pay 10 cents to hear Kidd read the big-city papers, conveying the latest news from Washington, D.C., and around the world.

It’s a good-paying job that puts food on Kidd’s table.

But lately, Kidd has had an extra mouth to feed. That’s because he found an abandoned German girl on the side of the road with no family, no parents and no shared language. The girl – he calls her “Johanna” – only speaks the language of the Kiowa, a Native American tribe.

Kidd learns her family was murdered but has distant relatives who live hundreds of miles away. With a desire to see Johanna reunited with family, Kidd and the girl set out on a dangerous journey across perilous lands.

Will they make it?

It’s all part of the new movie News of the World (PG-13), which is set five years after the Civil War and stars Tom Hanks as Kidd and Helena Zengel as Johanna.

Here are four things you should know:

Photo courtesy: ©Universal

News of the World still

1. It’s a Mixture of Fact and Fiction

News of the World is based on a novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles, a best-selling author who had based her story on a real-life citizen of the Old West – a man who was the great-grandfather of a friend's husband, Wayne Chisholm. Chisholm had told Jiles about an ancestor who toured Texas reading newspapers to crowds.

“‘And I said, 'Just going around reading newspapers?' And he said, 'Yeah, in whatever community building was available. He'd charge a dime, and he'd try to get newspapers from as far away as possible, so the news was enchanting and it was almost like folk tales or fairy tales to people,’” she told Minnesota Public Radio in 2016.

She combined that story with stories she had heard about children being taken, during raids, by tribes.

Thus, News of the World is historical fiction, even though it’s based on a series of real-world facts.

Photo courtesy: ©Universal

News of the World still

2. It’s a Fascinating Trip Back in Time

News of the World is a gripping tale about a time period – the 1870s – when horseback was still the preferred method of travel and the railroad was in its infancy. Kidd collects major newspapers – newspapers that weren’t sold locally – and provides a dramatic reading for customers. The movie depicts 50 or more people packed in a hall at night after a long day’s work, listening intently as Kidd reads the news by candlelight. For them, it might as well have been a New York-style stage production.

“The meningitis epidemic continues to spread without prejudice across the panhandle and North Texas region. So far it has claimed 97 souls in just a two-month period,” he says to gasps from the crowd.

The film combines this fascinating historical backdrop with Kidd’s admirable desire to reunite a 10-year-old girl with her distant relatives. It won’t be easy, as the trip will take weeks across dry land. It also will be dangerous. Bandits litter the landscape, wanting not only Kidd’s money but also his most-important package (the girl: bandits theoretically could turn her into a prostitute). Yes, it has a few gunfights, too.

Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel are excellent and have great on-screen chemistry.

News of the World is an Old Western movie with a heart-warming plot.

Photo courtesy: ©Universal

Still from News of the World

3. It Promotes Adoption … and the Sanctity of Life

Don’t miss the pro-life message in News of the World. While others would have abandoned Johanna and left her to die, Captain Kidd steps up to rescue her. To him, it matters little that he’ll lose money and time during the weeks-long trip. It also doesn’t matter to him that he knows nothing about childrearing (he has no kids). He doesn’t even care that she speaks a tribal language and will be raised in a society that hates Native Americans – the people who raised her.

Kidd only knows that a helpless orphan – an orphan living in a world with no social safety net – needs rescuing.

“Why are you doing this?” a friend asks.

Kidd, though, doesn’t respond. His actions do the talking.

It’s a pro-adoption movie that brings to mind the scriptural words of James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

The film also includes positive messages about compassion, selflessness and dealing with life’s tragedies (Kidd’s wife died while he was in the war).

Photo courtesy: ©Universal

News of the World still

4. It Critiques Our News Obsession

For too many people in our society, the news – and, specifically, politics – has become an obsession. It’s what we think about when we turn on the lights in the morning and when we turn off the light at night. It’s the subject of our television programs, radio shows and mid-day conversations. It’s also a primary reason we’re anxious, argumentative and judgmental. Instead of renewing our mind with Scripture, we’ve let the TV talking heads shape our worldview.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. He views news as a way to inform – yes – but also to help the citizens understand other viewpoints.

When a brutal businessman orders Kidd to read stories from a local journal – stories that would support the man’s horrible actions against his employees – Kidd instead reads stories to the crowd about hard-working Pennsylvania minors who opposed the reckless actions of their boss. And when Confederate veterans threaten to riot after hearing news of reconstruction, Kidd urges them to calm down and deal with their differences constructively.

Kidd views the news as a vehicle to spread positive ideas. Yet he never unnecessarily inflames the public with it.

News of the World isn’t for kids. (See below for content details.) But if you enjoy Old Westerns and historical dramas with an inspiring ending, News of the World could become one of your favorite films of the year.

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

Content details:

Violence/disturbing: we see part of a man’s body hung from a tree; Kidd shoots several men during a gunfight.

Sexuality: men offer Kidd money for Johanna; we see a woman his age in his bed, wearing a nightgown (sex is implied, although we never see them kiss or embrace).

Coarse language: h-- (2), s--t (1), d--n (4), GD (4).

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Photo courtesy: ©Universal

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.