Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Macy Gray, David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn.
Written by: Lee Daniels and (also book) Peter Dexter.
Running Time: 107 mins
Release date: 15th March 2013
Don’t be fooled by the title. The Paperboy isn’t about a teenager who has to get up in the early morning to deliver hefty copies of the broadsheets to people too lazy to walk to the shop themselves. If only it was that cosy. No, The Paperboy is a stylish, yet sleazy and sweaty thriller from the director of the excellent, Precious.
Ward Jensen is a newspaper reporter who returns home to investigate the murder of his home town sheriff. Hillary Van Wetter, a swarm dweller, has been accused of the crime and is sitting in jail waiting to be executed. Along with a fellow writer, a black Englishman, Yardley, Ward is convinced that Wetter is innocent. Dragging his younger brother, Jack, into being a driver, they hope to use the local seductress, Charlotte, who has been writing letters to Wetter, to help bring out the truth. Instead, Jack falls in love with the older woman and the truth becomes painfully thin as secrets from everyone start to raise their heads.
The first thing to commend director Lee Daniels with is the way the film has been shot and produced. Set in the hot deep South during the late 1960s, it oozes sweat. You just feel hot from watching it. Secondly he captures the period brilliantly, not on in the production values (costumes, settings etc) but the way it’s shot and edited. It looks like a low budget exploitation film from the period. This also is part of the film’s downfall as well. It suffers from a feel of disjointedness. The cuts are sometimes to brutal and can leave you confused as to what is happening.
He also manages to pull out several subplots dealing with culture, race and secrets, each layer appearing slowly throughout the film. Based on the novel by Peter Dexter, it does have a feel of pure pulp fiction about it that sometimes is so grubby, you’ll want to shower afterwards. There are a few scenes in which you do wonder if they are there to help develop character or plot, or to shock and disgust.
Once thing that goes without saying is that the performances are universally excellent. The reinvention of Matthew McConaughey is going from strength to strength. Here playing the quietly spoken reporter, it’s a far cry from Killer Joe and he just seems to be getting better with each film. Another actor who is reinventing himself is Zac Efron. Long gone are the days of being the boy next-door, here as the sexually charged Jack, I have to say, it’s his best performance to date, a complex role that grows throughout the film, even if he does spend most of it in his underwear.
Nicole Kidman, as the slutty Charlotte, is perfectly smoldering in the femme fatale while John Cusack is utterly disgusting as the oily Wetter. One particular scene in which he makes Charlotte perform a simulated sexual act is both degrading and vile in equal measures. Yet it’s a scene you won’t forget easily.
Finally there’s Macy Gray. Yes, she of the Marge Simpson voice who sang I Try. Like Daniels’ previous film in which he cast Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz (both were surprisingly good), he has done it again with Gray. Acting as narrator of the piece, her role of the housemaid who helps guide Jack, is both moving and believable and the biggest surprise in the film.
This is going to be a film that will divide the audience. Some will find it hard going and far too shocking with its acts of violence and sexual depravity while others maybe bewildered by the loose plotting, something that also brings the film down. It isn’t an easy to like or to recommend but one thing is for sure, with the first rate performances and a talent like Daniels behind the lens, this is a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it. If that is the case, then it’s a job well done.