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ESP’s movie critic Gavin Miller continues to keep his eye on the film releases on the small screen and gives his verdict on this new Tom Hanks western…

The latest Tom Hanks movie vehicle is a slow-burning change of pace for the Oscar-winning actor – headlined by two impressive acting performances.

The man himself puts in another solid turn as a Civil War veteran-turned-preacher in this 1870s-set Western drama, but young German actress Helena Zengel is the real star here – putting in a Golden Globe-nominated (for Supporting Actress) turn as Native American-raised Johanna.

But while it’s a refreshingly different story helmed by Oscar-nominated director Paul Greengrass (United 93, Captain Phillips and The Bourne Ultimatum), the slow and methodical pacing and lack of consistent action won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Because it’s the acting – to the backdrop of breathtaking nineteenth century Wild West Texas landscapes – that is the real winner here.

Five years after the end of the war, Confederate Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), now moves nomadically from town to town as a storyteller clasping the latest (ish) regional and national newspapers. Here he entrances out-of-touch local townsfolk by regaling stories from across the States and the globe – sharing political narratives, devastating catastrophes, and feel-good tales at a cost of ten cents for every listening person.

But his world is changed when he crosses paths with ten-year-old Johanna (Zengel) – a young girl who speaks very little of her German tongue – who was taken in by the Native American Kiowa people when she was only four, and raised as one of their own.

With no-one able or willing to return the youngster to her biological Aunt and Uncle near San Antonio – which the law says is where she belongs – Kidd agrees to take on the task.

But travelling 400 miles across the unforgiving wilderness, facing gunmen, tribes and natural forces in equal measure, is no easy feat, as Kidd and the-initially-hostile Johanna start to slowly form a father/daughter-esque bond. The scene with Michael Angelo Covino’s sleazy ex-soldier turned child trafficker Almay and his gang being one of the stand-out highlights as Kidd refuses to sell Johanna to them.

And while this adventure is probably only for Hanks or Western fans, it’s great to see a film that provides a proper ‘feel for the period’ – and doesn’t portray Kidd as some devastating Wyatt Earp-type marksman. He’s not dramatically more skilled than your average cowboy.

On the flipside it can get a little plodding between the limited set-pieces, but if you simply focus on the acting and sumptuous scenery – then this is more than newsworthy.

ESP Rating: 3.5/5

Gavin Miller

Platform: Netflix

Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Neil Sandilands & Michael Angelo Covino

Running Time: 1 Hr 58 Mins

Director: Paul Greengrass


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