Co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Green Zone, Captain Phillips) and based on Paulette Jiles' 2016 novel, the story follows Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a Civil War veteran who in 1870 travels through Northern Texas reading the news to paying audiences. As he's traveling to a new town, he comes upon a young orphaned girl (Helena Zengel), who as a child was kidnapped and raised by the Kiowa as one of their own. With her Kiowa family dead, no English speaking ability, and nowhere to go, Kidd reluctantly agrees to take her to her aunt and uncle 400 miles away, sending the two on a harrowing adventure. (118 min.)
- Photo Courtesy Of Universal Pictures
- ON THE ROAD Kidnaped by the Kiowa as a small child, Johanna (Helena Zengel) is being escorted home to the white family she doesn't remember by Civil War veteran Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), in the episodic Western News of the World, screening on demand.
Glen I love Westerns, and this one is in some ways very straightforward but in other ways very nuanced. On the surface, it's the story of evading danger and trying to get a little girl to her family, but just under the surface is America's ugly stain of racism, our genocide of Native Americans, and the still-fresh wound between Northerners and Southerners. All these ideas churn through the story in subtle ways, giving it a surprising depth. Ultimately, it's about a search for a place to call home for two people who have lost everything and everyone that mattered to them. Johanna, as Kidd comes to call the little girl, resists being returned to her white family, who she has no memory of. She's truly alone. Kidd lives an itinerant life, resigned to his solitude as he makes his way from town to town. Unable to communicate with one another, Kidd and Johanna learn to know each other through their actions, and their evolving relationship makes for compelling viewing. They turn out to be a good team, coming to each other's rescue as they encounter criminals, despots, Indians, and the harsh conditions of the wilderness they traverse in an episodic adventure. This is the best new Western since The Sister Brothers (2018), Hostiles (2017), and In a Valley of Violence (2016). If you like Westerns, it's worth the $19.99 to stream.
Anna The danger Kidd and Johanna face together draws them into a tight bond; both are protective of each other. While we know Johanna is alone and Kidd's work is inherently lonely, we don't immediately get his backstory except for a mention of a wife back home. Hanks is so good here; he's stoic and fatherly and all too aware of the dangers they face on the road. I haven't seen Helena Zengel in anything before, but she was flat-out impressive, especially in a part where language can't be her form of communication. When three men try to buy Johanna from Kidd and then chase them down after a scuffle with the authorities, things look dire for the two, but Johanna's quick thinking ends up saving them. It's nail-biting moments mixed with tenderness as the two leads get to know and care about each other. It's a Western, but it isn't just gun battles and horses, there is a truly great story here. I loved it.
Glen Hanks does play a terrific everyman. He just exudes decency. His Capt. Kidd is a man who's seen terrible things, and you get the feeling the only reason he was fighting for the South instead of the North was geography. Unlike the three desperados you mentioned, who are also Civil War vets from the South, Kidd hasn't let all the horrors he's seen diminish his morality. And you're right about Zengel. She communicates volumes. There's clear intelligence behind those eyes. It's amazing to watch her spin her emotions on a dime, going from frightened to fierce, from curious to defiant. Director Greengrass and his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski (Crimson Tide, Dark City, Prometheus, The Martian), find another character in the desert landscape where the film was shot. Both beautiful and unforgiving, the New Mexico setting is a good stand-in for Texas. The story is very sentimental, and the ending is predictable, but after a year in quarantine, I'm in the mood for things to work out. This Hollywood ending is entirely welcome.
Anna Same here. I need the feel-good stuff wherever I can get it. While I would have loved to have seen this on the big screen—some of the action scenes and a particularly crazy dust storm would have shined bright—I'm just happy to have new content and Hollywood budgets to create them. Hanks is always charming, and something about his nature screams that he's a decent and kind person. I'll watch him be a good guy all day long. In fact, when we rented this on demand, we had 24 hours to watch the film, so we watched it two days in a row, and I'd watch it again without hesitation. I rooted for the pair both times, cried both times, and loved the ending both times. Director Greengrass makes some pretty compelling films—some of the Bourne films and Captain Phillips. The guy knows how to keep you on your toes. While this film may be rooted in the relationship between the two, there's no shortage of action and adventure. It's definitely worth the $20 price tag. Δ
Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.