One of my favorite children’s books is “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. There’s a scene where the main characters are driving through a lush green landscape. They comment on the view, saying that it’s beautiful, but then a new character chimes in and says, “If you happened to like deserts, you might not think this was beautiful at all,” and this leads to a whole conversation about perspective. “News of the World” is a movie for people who happen to like deserts. Ironically-named director Paul Greengrass makes sure we get plenty long, loving looks at the rocky, rugged greatness of rural Texas circa 1870. This is a world where if your carriage wheel breaks, you’re stranded a barren wasteland. I cannot imagine liking a world where such circumstances are possible, but whatever there is to like about this setting, Greengrass capitalizes on it.
Tom Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson “Kyle” Kidd, a Civil War veteran who now ekes out a living going from town to town reading newspapers to paying audiences. He’s essentially a primitive newscaster, and he’s not very good at his job. Yes, he can read in an era when many can’t, but his readings are cold, with his face about two inches away from the page. Memorization, or at least a rehearsal, would do him well. But the work keeps him busy, and that’s what he needs.