Reel Dad: 'News of the World' celebrates the power of story

He walks into crowded rooms filled with people anxious to hear what’s happening in the world. The storyteller brings an engaging spirit to these conversations, a willingness to explain, a commitment to share his curiosity and a sincere desire to keep his audiences informed. But when it comes to creating his own news, the man hesitates to put himself in the middle of what could be a significant story.

“News of the World” is both a big tale of the American Southwest and a small look at one man’s attempt to carve a life on a broad landscape. This is a movie to see on a big screen, if possible, to savor the beauty of the visuals while carefully listening to the beautifully-crafted words in the script. Yet, no matter the size of the screen, the film offers a chance to learn more about the world we live in today by taking a journey back in time to a moment when people with clear voices could influence many.

Tom Hanks - clearly relishing the chance to play such a rich role - commands every room he enters as a veteran soldier who, after serving in the Civil War, struggles to find his footing in a changing world while avoiding what he may find at home. The storyteller travels the small towns of North Texas, moving from hall to hall, picking up newspapers when he can, and charging people small admission fees to hear the news from his stage as interpreter, humorist and, occasionally, teacher. At each session, he provides the headlines and the context to help people absorb the change they face. And, when confronted with a young girl who needs help to find her own home, he quickly learns that talking about the world differs from navigating a path through its confusions.

As the storyteller’s journey unfolds - and he and the girl trek through the Texas wilderness - what they encounter becomes secondary to how they react to each situation. Director Paul Greengrass makes each sequence visually compelling without letting what we see on screen get in the way of what we learn about how these characters react to what they experience. In Hanks - as the director experienced a few years ago with “Captain Phillips” - Greengrass finds an actor who works from the inside of a character, using each nuance of expression, every glance of his eyes, to let us see into a soul searching for answers in a world that can overwhelm. Always a strong performer on screen, this role gives Hanks the opportunity - much as “Castaway” years ago - to remind us how striking an actor he can be when he lets us see how someone feels at every moment. While his engaging manner and natural sincerity are well suited for the role, Hanks also reveals the fears and disappointments that shape how this man looks at his world and the news he shares.

The stories matter to “News of the World,” as vehicles for people to connect, and for a man to trust how he can face whatever he may find on the next page.

“News of the World” is rated PG-13 for “violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language.” The film, running 1 hour, 58 minutes, opens in theaters Dec. 25 before becoming available for streaming.

Summary: News of the World

Content: High. This compelling story of a man who shares the news of a country emerging from the Civil War offers some lessons for the journey our nation currently faces.

Entertainment: High. Tom Hanks, in a striking performance, makes us want to learn more about how this man reaches beyond what is comfortable to pursue what is right.

Message: Medium. Director Paul Greengrass creatively suggests that what we learn from history can help what we confront today.

Relevance: High. Anyone who loves history, and savors big movies with broad landscapes, should thoroughly enjoy the film, in a theater or at home.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. Sharing this film with older children can give families the chance for thoughtful conversation about a fundamental chapter in American history.