In an uncharacteristic splurge and because I loved the book so much, I threw away $20 on a mediocre, philosophical hodgepodge, Grade B western movie. Paulette Jile’s novel which the movie is based on, is a lyrically written, multi-layered, morally complex tale. The movie does attempt to emulate those qualities, but fails so miserably that I wonder if the director/screenwriter actually read the book. The story in brief: five years after the Civil War an aging itinerant veteran of the Mexican War, and the Civil War travels from town to town in Texas giving live readings of the news to paying audiences. This solitary existence is interrupted by his encounter with a U.S. army rescued ten year old girl. Raised by the Kiowa tribe after they killed her German immigrant parents and sister six years prior to her rescue, she needs to be brought to relatives 400 miles away. The book and the movie provide different motivations for his taking on the journey with her ( one of many perplexing choices on the part of the screenwriter). If I had never read the book I would still give the film a C. Except for some really wonderful cinematography, it’s slow. About two thirds of the way into it I considered cutting my losses and going to bed. The acting is okay. Tom Hanks brings a kind of Scully (the U.S. Airways pilot who successfully landed on the Hudson River)/Mr. Rogers persona to his role as the News Reader. The orphan is played by an award winning German child actor who, try as I might, I could not warm up to. Some critics raved about her performance, but honestly, she was pretty unconvincing. and some odd costuming choices served as annoying distractions. To be fair, it’s a challenging role, since her character speaks only Kiowan and much of the plot and spirit of the film has to do with the bonding of the two protagonists. I’m bewildered by the number of critics who rave about this film. But I am also willing to concede that my having read the book biased my expectations. My fellow screener, Steve, who did not read the book disagrees with my strident view. He thought the child actor was great, and loved (as I did), the New Mexico landscape where it was filmed. Would love to hear (per usual) dissenting and assenting views.
“News of the World” (Amazon $20!!)