If anyone can save an orphan girl from the big bad world, it’s Tom hanks. In one of the richest roles of his career, the two-time Oscar winner plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in “News of the World,” which hits Universal Studio at Christmas. The film, directed by Oscar nominee (“United 93”) and mastermind of the “Bourne” franchise Paul Greengrass, will be one of the most distinctive offers of the holiday season.
The Source Material, a 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, is second to none. Nominated for a national book award, “News” offers numerous selling points that draw voters in. First of all, it’s a two player. From “The Miracle Worker” to “Midnight Cowboy,” Oscar rewards films where the interaction between two generally incompatible characters dramatically alters each life at the end of the film. “News of the World” takes viewers on a 400-mile journey as widowed Civil War veteran attempts to fire Johanna Leonberger (newcomer Helena Zengel), a 10-year-old white girl kidnapped by the Kiowas and raised as Native American, with her family, German immigrants who need help working their farm. Kidd needs to earn the child’s trust, teach her English, and protect her from herself and others. He’s out of his league, but is up to the task.
Second, “News” has gravity, exploring the lively theme of cultural alienation, but in an unusual setting. Is Johanna better off with her adopted culture or one to which the white world thinks she legally belongs? As viewers will see, there is no easy answer.
Third, “News” is a western, the most American of cinematographic genres. Westerns such as “Dances With Wolves” and “Unforgiven” climbed to Best Picture in 1992 and 1993 respectively. As Kidd and Johanna unexpectedly bond in a difficult world, Academy members may fall head over heels for them.
Gold Derby pundits currently rank “News of the World” as ninth with a 20: 1 rating to win a nomination for Best Picture. Star Hanks, who was nominated in 2019 for Best Supporting Actor to play Fred Rogers in ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’, is looking to land his seventh nomination, his sixth as best actor, and Derby-ites gives him 28 vs. odds in a category that includes other previous winners Anthony hopkins (“The Father”) and Gary Oldman (“Mank”). Greengrass, who directed Hanks in “Captain Phillips,” is doing slightly better. It is in sixth place, with a rating of 22 to 1. The film is also well placed among the candidates for the best adapted screenplay, with a rating of 13 to 1 and a fifth place. A robust box office and critical reception will increase the odds for all of these contenders.