After the US Civil War, Capt. Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) earned his living by going town to town reading news to a paying audience. One day en route to his next destination, Kidd saw an overturned wagon along the road and found a white girl wearing an Indian dress in there. She was unruly and difficult to deal with because she was scared and did not speak English. She now only spoke the Kiowa language of the Indian tribe who raised her after they killed both her parents.
When he learned that the girl's real name was Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zenger) and that she still had living relatives willing to take her in, Kidd reluctantly took it upon himself to bring her to them. Along the rough and dangerous way to her uncle's farm, they encountered all sorts of bad men, bad weather and bad luck. However, these series of misadventures eventually drew the two closer to each other, forging a strong partnership despite the persistent communication gap.
Even if this was his first Western, Hanks is undeniably a movie star. On paper, the occupation of being a news reader may have sounded like the most boring job ever. There was actually a character within this same movie who commented that he never knew such a job even existed. Anyhow, when Hanks stepped up on that plate, he was totally fascinating as a news reader. So charismatic and eloquent, he had the audience in his hands, both those listening to him in the scene, and those who are watching him on the screen.
Maybe because Hanks had this effect on his viewers seemingly so effortlessly, his lead performance is not catching too much awards buzz for Best Actor as it should. Instead the attention is hovering around his 12 -year-old co-star Zengel, who so far has found herself being nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and several other critics groups. She had a strong screen presence in this tough, physically and internally demanding role, reminiscent of Anna Paquin and Jodie Foster.
Overall the film, directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass had a generally leisurely pace (in contrast to Greengrass's previous Bourne films or his Oscar-nominated "United 93"), occasionally tightening up the tension in moments when Kidd and Johanna facing deadly perils from criminals that prowl the Wild West.
The expansive cinematography of the Texas wilderness (by Dariusz Wolski) and the soaring epic musical score (by James Newton Howard) seem destined for awards recognition.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."