This morning a teaser dropped for a new Tom Hanks movie, one that I’d been curious about for quite some time. It’s the first trailer for News of the World, a film adaptation of the 2016 novel by Utopia resident Paulette Jiles. Jiles and I have had some, um, interesting interactions (which you can read about in my profile of her), but she’s an incredible writer and deserves all of her success. News of the World is—at least in my eyes—her best book, a poignant western about an Army veteran and widower who escorts a young German girl back to her relatives in Central Texas, shortly after her “rescue” from the Kiowa community she’d lived with for four years. The novel received rave reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Tom Hanks loved it too; Fox 2000 snatched up the movie rights, with the actor attached to star, just eight months after the book’s release.
The film was directed by Paul Greengrass from a screenplay adapted by Luke Davies. It was in production when I met with Jiles earlier this year, and she cheekily referred to it as her “old-age pension, because when that movie comes out, the book will sell forever, and probably in volume.” As of this morning, “that movie” is on track to be released on Christmas Day 2020. It’s a surprising choice by Universal Pictures in the midst of a global pandemic, as dozens of movies that were supposed to premiere this year have been pushed back to 2021 and 2022. Regal announced on Monday that it’s shutting down all of its U.S. theaters again; even if it and other chains reopen soon, it seems unlikely that audiences will be wooed back into crowded indoor spaces in just a couple months.
But if anyone could inspire the American public to take that chance, it would be universally beloved COVID-19 survivor Tom Hanks, stepping into yet another role as a moral protector. The character of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is the perfect Tom Hanks vehicle, allowing him to shepherd Johanna, the vulnerable young captive, through 1870s Texas with the same combination of strength and comfort that “America’s Dad” deployed in shepherding us all through the first terrifying months of the pandemic.
News of the World is a compelling story—two drifting souls bond for life against a backdrop of lawlessness and danger at every turn—but one of the things that makes the book so gripping is Jiles’s prose. Direct and punchy, her writing uses the absolute minimum number of words necessary to get her point across. That contributes to an overall tone of practicality befitting a narrative in which characters have no time or inclination to wax poetic or overthink their emotions, when they’re just trying to survive and be loved. The way Jiles balances it all is what makes the novel so successful.
It will be interesting to see how this balance is reflected onscreen. In the minute-long teaser, overhead shots of glowing scrubland indicate that the film visually treats the landscape (filmed, alas, in New Mexico, not Texas) with the same reverence Jiles did in the text. The way Tom Hanks growls “She’s not for sale” at second 39 has already plucked at my heartstrings. I will, without question, gladly watch this movie with my dad. But we certainly won’t be seeing it in theaters.