Synopsis: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate, and his strange love affair with a local woman
Some movies are so adept at portraying the atmosphere in which they exist that you come away feeling like you were right there. Not just emotionally but physically. I remember after watching The Thing for the first time I felt physically chilled afterwards.
The Paperboy is a sweaty, grimy, pulpy, dirty movie that made me want to take a shower or six afterwards. It also changed the way I’ll look at Nicole Kidman forever more.
Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Dexter, The Paperboy is set in deepest, swampy Florida over one sweaty, humid summer in 1969. Zac Efron is Jack Jansen, a once great swimming prospect kicked out of college who is now spending his summer as an intern at his Father’s small town paper and bothering their maid (Macy Gray). Returning to the family home is his brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey, on a continued streak of brave choices) a journalist for the Miami Herald, and his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo, who continues to turn up in everything I am watching these days). The fact that Yardley is black creates immediate tension in the most humidly oppressive of atmospheres. You could literally cut the air. The reason for their return is their belief in the innocence of a convicted serial killer on Death Row, Hilary Van Wetter (a disgustingly engaging John Cusack). It should all be fairly straightforward, were it not for the presence of Hilary’s “girlfriend” Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a local harlot who strikes up relationships with convicted prisoners in search of true love.
The Paperboy is a film about misappropriated love. Everybody loves someone they shouldn’t. Either because they are dangerous, unobtainable or just plain ignorant. Ultimately they are all victims of their own myopic ways. On more than one occasion their arrogance is almost their total undoing and in one particular case almost their demise.
Nicole Kidman is on rare form as Charlotte, a 40 year old woman who oozes sexuality as the men around her ooze sweat. It was an interesting piece of casting for someone with such a porcelain doll image and she fully embraces the change of typecasting. There are a number of scenes that on any other day I couldn’t imagine Kidman debasing herself to doing, but she does and she gives it everything. There aren’t many $20m actresses who would happily let a director intrusively film them peeing on Zac Efron. She also has the distinction of being in two of the most awkward sex scenes I have seen since Killer Joe. At one point Lee Daniels’s camera got close enough for you to feel her hot breath and the steam rising off her skin. For a non-contact sex scene I have never felt more compelled to turn away and give everyone a little privacy. This was later matched for one of the most awkward conventional sex scenes I have seen in a long time. Again, I wanted to turn away but I couldn’t.
As a thriller The Paperboy is so so. The central story , which is built around the question of to whether or not Hilary killed a Police Sheriff a number of years before, gets lost in amongst the various individual stories being played out around it. In all honesty it doesn’t matter too much as Daniels explores the characters relationships, colliding, departing and colliding again like frenzied molecules, through a series of intriguing set ups.
For an A-list cast no one gets out clean. Matthew McConaughey, looking like a distant relative of his character from Killer Joe, was never less appealing with his greasy curls and scarred face. Efron continues to remove himself from the High School Musical bubblegum cinema that made him famous. Macy Gray is the surprise of the bunch as the family maid, and the object of Jack’s true and uncomplicated love. Her gravely voice and dry delivery provides an fresh and pleasant respite from the humid nastiness. It’s John Cusack though whose performance as the disgusting, dirty, racist psychopath Hilary that leaves you wanting to take a series of very long hot showers.
It lags in places and not everything works. It does suffer from feeling like it lacks direction and the over use of dream sequences and directorial quirks can be a little distracting. it is also by no means a pleasant watch but The Paperboy is an intriguing set of performances set in a vividly painted environment.
Conclusion: Ultimately not the sum of it’s parts but worth watching for the performances of the central cast
Director: Lee Daniels – Previously directed box office and critical favourite Precious
Writers: Lee Daniels; Peter Dexter (novel)
Cast: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo, John Cusack, Macy Gray, Ned Bellamy, Scott Glen, Nealla Gordon
- Pedro Almodóvar was several times approached to helm this project and seriously considered to make it his first English-speaking feature. He finally declined but, allegedly, he participated in early versions of the script.