We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"Newsies," we are informed as the movie opens, is based on actual events. I do not doubt this. I am sure that shortly before the turn of the century, newsboys organized a strike against the greedy Joseph Pulitzer, and were cheered on by a dance-hall madam with a heart of gold. Nor do I doubt that the lads, some of them boys of 9 or 10, hung out in saloons and bought rounds of beer while making their plans, or that the proprietor of an evil city orphanage made himself rich by collecting fees from the city. I don't even doubt that the newsboys printed their own strike paper on an old flatbed press in the basement of Pulitzer's building. Of course I believe.
What I find hard to believe, however, is that anyone thought the screenplay based on these actual events was of compelling interest. "Newsies" is like warmed-over Horatio Alger, complete with such indispensable cliches as the newsboy on crutches, the little kid, and of course the hero's best pal, who has a pretty sister. Nor does the movie lack the standard villains, including Oscar nominee Michael Lerner as the hardhearted circulation manager.
In the role of New York publisher Joseph Pulitzer, Robert Duvall, wearing a beard that makes him look like one of the Smith Brothers, plays a standard fatcat industrialist, with none of the wit or insight that the original Pulitzer employed while selling the first mass-circulation newspapers to the unwashed masses. The real Pulitzer, who was one of the inspirations for "Citizen Kane," must have known something about ordinary people; here he seems to despise them.