The Paperboy (2013)

15 March 2013

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The Paperboy, starring Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe), Zac Efron (Charlie St. Cloud, The Lucky One), Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Rabbit Hole) and John Cusack (The Raven) with David Oyelowo (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, The Help), Macy Gray (For Colored Girls) and Scott Glenn (upcoming Bourne Legacy) co-starring. New York Times' best-selling author Pete Dexter, writer of such American classics as Paris Trout and Deadwood, adapted his book of the same name for the big screen with Director Lee Daniels. Daniels, who last helmed the Academy Award-winning Precious, is directing this unique character-driven thriller set in central Florida during the late 1960s.

The story follows two brothers: Ward Jansen (played by Matthew McConaughey), a reporter for the esteemed daily newspaper, The Miami Times, and Jack Jansen (played by Zac Efron), a recent college dropout who lives in a small town in central Florida with their gutless father, W.W. Jansen (played by Scott Glenn). When Ward shows up with his writing partner, Yardley Acheman (played by David Oyelowo), to investigate a story for their paper, Ward asks Jack to drive them around. The reason Ward is in town is that Charlotte Bless (played by Nicole Kidman), an enigmatic loner who writes to prisoners on death row, has convinced them that Hillary Van Wetter (played by John Cusack), an unsavoury alligator hunter from the backwoods, was wrongly convicted at a trial that took place near their hometown.

As the investigation unravels, it becomes clear that these brothers are on a journey that is filled with betrayal. The only thing that remains constant is that there is this strange, beautiful woman who falls in love with killers and her passion could be everyone's downfall.

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“An immensely enjoyable film to indulge in, and one that is all but set to gain a cult following...”

Playing out to a rather raucous, scathing audience at Cannes Film Festival last year, The Paperboy is Lee Daniels' follow up to the Oscar winning Precious, and in what is a brilliantly dark and trashy piece, it's fair to say that in this instance it would be wise to ignore the critics. Apart from myself, of course.

Set in the 1960's Deep South, Nicole Kidman plays Charlotte Bless, a death-row groupie who falls in love with inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), and therefore seeks to find evidence to prove him innocent, to release her lover of whom she'd never met. Putting the idealistic reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) on the case – along with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) and younger brother, and paperboy, Jack (Zac Efron), matters get confusing when the latter of which falls head over heels in love with Charlotte, as this case spirals into dark places that none of those involved were willing to predict.

The Paperboy is in a similar mould to Killer Joe last year, as a film that manages to display disturbing themes within a quite pulpy, trashy environment, with a certain McConaughey being the common link between the two, as he turns in yet another fine performance. Talking of which, Efron isn't too shabby himself, as it's great to see both aforementioned actors escaping from their supposed stereotypes and trying more adventurous roles – roles they are benefiting from greatly. Kidman does steal the show however, certainly deserving of her Golden Globes nomination.

The story itself is told via the narration of Anita Chester (Macy Gray) – the Jansen's house maid. This is effective as she represents a subjective, outside take on the story and allows the audience to almost feel as though we're peering in to this deranged world, much as she is. Gray is also somewhat unhinged and adds to the trashy feel, while her Deep South accent works brilliantly as the films voiceover, providing an atmosphere as the film. Going against the realism, Anita – who is supposedly recounting her version of events later on in her life - occasionally addresses the audience.

The narrative is compelling in this instance, and helped along by the fact that the viewer doesn't share the same, ultimate goal of our protagonists, as although they are vying to release Van Wetter from death-row, we certainly aren't rooting for their success, as the psychopath is vindictive and nasty. As a result the confliction caused between ourselves and that of the Jansen's gives the audience a sense of a omniscient, if somewhat frustrating, power.

The intriguing premise is also enhanced by the course, grainy mise-en-scene, as all of the characters are drenched in sweat, and although sitting comfortably in your cinema seat, you feel as though you are there amongst them, swatting flies and avoiding the stench of the swamps and those who occupy them. The soundtrack also adds to the overall experience, full of the Deep South, bluesy soul numbers which helps encapsulate the era and setting being depicted.

The Paperboy just got something about it, and remains an immensely enjoyable film to indulge in, and one that is all but set to gain a cult following. Although that may just have something to do with the fact we get to see Nicola Kidman urinating on Zac Efron. Seriously.

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