This is not Tom Hanks’ first rodeo, but he does get to ride in his first Western. And not the first time he’s worked with Director Paul Greengrass. Instead of Captain Phillips, now he’s Civil War retired Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, going from town to town reading newspaper stories out loud it a new adventure when he takes on an unwanted sidekick. Greengrass wrote the script with Luke Davies adapted from a book of the same name by Paulette Jiles.
Captain Kidd finds a freaked out little blonde girl abandoned near wreckage on the road near Wichita. He takes pity on her, refusing to leave her alone. One problem. She only speaks Kiowa and a little German. Captain Kidd finds her official papers which reveal that her real name is Johanna, and that she was taken by the Indians in a raid at the age of 6. The film is reminiscent of John Ford’s 1956 Western called The Searchers where John Wayne playing a man in a similar situation where a very young Natalie Wood is living with the Comanche Indians in Texas.
Empathetic soul that he is, the Captain decides to take her where someone else can get her to relatives. Of course, it’s not possible and he’s stuck with this silent but striking child. Speaking Indian, with her mane of bright yellow blonde hair, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Bad guy Michael Covino (The Climb) makes for a sleazy villain wanting to buy her, which Captain Kidd refuses. He and his buddies threaten to just take her. Kidd fights them off, but the bad guy and his buddies follow and the chase begins.
Hanks does well negotiating the hills of Texas with the little girl in tow. She’s pretty resourceful and the two start working together, even though communication between them is mostly silent with a few simple gestures. They’re both learning how to communicate with a word or two in Kiowa and English with a little German thrown in here and there. When the bad guys catch up, it’s back to Captain Kidd in battle mode. Hanks climbs the rocky hills like he knows what he’s doing, and his little companion is pretty resourceful herself. They’re able to fend off these dudes, and get to know each other better as they continue on their mission to find a safe place for themselves.
Adventures seem to be director Greengrass (The Bourne movies, United 93) and his cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s specialty. Wolski,(The Martian, Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) shows the wild west as sometimes beautiful, and sometimes tough, rugged and relentless as in the massive dust storm that kept the Captain and Johanna running. You’ll feel parched just watching it.
He takes the little girl to what’s left of her home and then to stay with relatives. He goes to his home, too. Neither finds what they’re looking for and the ending is pretty predictable. Hanks’ shows empathy. Johanna shows trust. And he gains a sidekick to help him share the news of the world.
In their travels, Johanna gets to witness a performance of the great Captain Kidd reading news of the world to an audience. The little girl is intrigued, as well she should be, because he is fun to watch no matter what he’s reading. Hanks is a great storyteller on and off camera. In this film, Hanks gets to show tenderness, but also great showmanship when he’s just reading old newspapers. No news there.
Universal Pictures 1 hour 58 minutes PG-13
In theaters December 25th
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