A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote, “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.”
And he’s right—there is nothing wrong with this film; there just isn’t a whole lot to recommend it, either. In some ways it might be a perfect movie for the times; it isn’t going to alienate anyone. And if you spend two hours of your life watching it, you won’t feel cheated; you will have enjoyed yourself. There just aren’t any real takeaways—nothing to chew on the next day.
There are some tremendously good things about it, though, mostly technical. The original score is by James Newton Howard who has received eight other Oscar nominations for original music. It evokes the sensibilities of a Western with moments of tension, grandness, and even tenderness, timed perfectly with the visuals. The sound team, also nominated, did a perfect job matching dialogue, ricocheting bullets, and a Texas sandstorm with superb mixing. Nominated cinematographer Darius Wolski captures the great expanse of western skies. And the production designers, also nominated, match the sets to the scenes. The movie is an aural and visual delight!
And the story is just fine, too. Captain Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a news reader, an occupation I never imagined before, but sounding very credible. He tours the remote towns of Texas reading newspapers to people willing to give a dime and an hour or so of their time. Kidd is very adept at reading his audience, as well as the papers, and spins stories that they are all very ready to hear. At one stop, he refuses to read the paper demanded by the town’s chieftain and manages to get away with it—an early example of resisting “fake news.”
One day, traveling through the Texas brush, Kidd happens upon an ugly scene, discovering an almost feral child who, German-born, was raised by Kiowa Tribe natives and so does not speak English. The story is one of their relationship over time, as they discover truths about themselves and how they can’t really restore the past.
The girl (“Cicada” in Kiowa, “Johanna” in German), is played by a very precocious 11-year old, Helena Zengel. She doesn’t have many lines in this film (since she doesn’t speak English) but she commands her own language through her facial expressions and the look in her eyes. I predict we will be seeing her in big future roles as she grows into her face: she will be a pleasure to follow.
And what, if anything, needs to be said about Tom Hanks? He is at his usual, stunning best here, playing his part with all the subtle confidence that we expect from him, whether as Captain Sully, Forrest Gump, Mister Rogers, or any of his other Oscar-caliber roles. Hanks makes us feel, in any of his roles, that he naturally inhabits the role and instantly makes us feel comfortable with his characters. At least I feel like I could always invite him to dinner, and he might just accept!
You can’t help but feel that this movie grounds you in the moment and gives you two hours of necessary escape. As Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com says, “On paper, this simple tale, well told, may not seem like it amounts to much, but, at the end of a year in which comfort was hard to find, this movie sometimes feels like a gift.” (3.5 Stars) See more at https://michaelsmoviemoments.com