In 1969 Florida, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), a reporter for The Miami Times, hires his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to help him and fellow Times writer Yardley (David Oyelowo) investigate the case of a man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who has been convicted of the murder of a sheriff. They soon encounter Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who has never met the prisoner but has been corresponding with Van Wetter - and is engaged to him. As the investigation unravels, it becomes clear to the brothers that there's more to the story than they first believed, and they soon realize they're on a journey filled with betrayal.
Review by Louise Keller:
Hot and steamy is the mood of this sordid tale about murder, sex and racial discrimination in which it is the sensational elements that take priority over the narrative. A Barbie-doll sexpot with a fixation for jailbirds, a feral crocodile hunter accused of murder, a journalist with a dark secret and a young idealist obsessed by the sexpot are the main characters of Peter Dexter's novel, adapted with the help of director Lee Daniels in the follow up to his acclaimed Precious in 2009. The film plays like a page turner, sensationalism flying like an arrow headed for the bullseye, looking to shock, tantalise and inspire a tangible mood that ends up making us feel rather grubby. Constantly edgy and fascinating to watch, The Paperboy is stronger in its parts than as a whole, mostly due to the script that never fully satisfies, relying on the shock value of the elements. Muddy dialogue also detracts.
Nicole Kidman does not disappoint as pouting Charlotte Bless, the platinum blond tramp, who delights in using sex as a tool. Leave your maiden aunt at home for the controversial jail masturbation scene, when Charlotte meets her fiancé, accused killer Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) for the first time. The beach scene when she urinates over Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) is also an eye-opener. The interspersed imagery of a pig, a crocodile and a dead bird, as Hillary and Charlotte engage in violent sex, is indeed disturbing. Efron is terrific as the young, impressionable protagonist, who falls in love with Charlotte and spends most of the film wearing little else than white Y-fronts. Cusack (as Hillary), creates a wonderfully despicable character, who is as slippery and primal as the alligators he guts for their skin. And then there is Matthew McConaughey, who slides naturally into the sleazy skin of journalist Ward Jansen, with the greasy hair and the prominent facial scar that we understand more fully as the plot progresses. David Oyelowo is excellent as the enigmatic Yardley Acheman, the coloured writer who works with Ward and speaks with a British accent.
The setting is 1969, when racial tensions in Florida (like other parts of the United States) are at screaming point. Told in flashback by the Jansen household's domestic Macy Gray (Anita Chester), the crucial information about the death of an unpopular local Sheriff is scant and quickly becomes overshadowed by the overtly outlandish nature of the characters. The lead up to the climactic scene in which Ward and Jack head into the crocodile-infested swamp in an electric boat where Hillary lives is the beginning of a tense and shocking sequence that is not for the faint-hearted.
While the characters of Charlotte, Hillary, Ward and Yardley resonate on their own, it is Jack's relationship with Macy that is the film's guiding link as he reaches his coming of age. Efron's presence is a nice contrast to that of the other characters, who are all jaded and debauched.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A more catchy and meaningful title for The Paperboy might have been Swamp Fiction, a near-noir drama set in Lately and the nearby Florida swamps. A place called Lately is a magnet for cinematic action, as are characters with names like death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and his pen-pal lover, the blonde and pink Charlotte Bliss (Nicole Kidman).
The tone of the film is more swampy than the title implies, a story of flawed characters intersecting, intercoursing and imploding around Hillary and Charlotte. The catalyst is the steadily named Ward Jansen (Matthew McConnaughey) and his younger brother Jack (Zac Effron), the latter getting seriously smitten by the Charlotte bimbo, even while she exercises tantric sex with Hillary on a jail visit while the others watch silently.
They are accompanied by Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), a black writer out of his comfort zone geographically, given the social climate of Florida in the 60s. His presence guarantees some frisson and provides a contrast to the Jansen family's long time black housekeeper, Anita (Macy Gray), a favourite of Jack's. She's the one whose novel based on these events has just been published and she is being interviewed about it. Then we are into flashback mode, but there is no bookend of this interview in the film's resolution.
Ward has come back home to Lately to poke around for information that he will use to publish an article that shows how Hillary's conviction was a miscarriage of justice; he gets Jack to drive him and Yardley about, in the course of which their lives are entangled with Charlotte's.
Nicole Kidman, pouting pink lips an' all, immerses herself in this southern creature with an eye catching performance, certain to focus everyone's attention on her scene in the prison where, sitting opposite Hillary, she spreads her legs, rips her pantyhose and thinks herself to an orgasm - as does Hillary.
John Cusack, cast against type like they all are, plays an edgy Hillary, quite scary and suitably grungy. McConaughey is his brawny self and is effective as Ward, whose crusade for the truth is not all it appears to be. Indeed, demons infest every character in some way, even if in Jack's case that demon is naïve young love that can't be denied.
We also get to see what the intestines of a swamp crocodile look like, so there's much to take home ... much of it bloody or corroded. It has its own zing but I would like to have cared more about at least some of the characters.
Not to filmmakers: please test your sound mix with a real audience - one who is not familiar with the script and therefore needs to hear most of the dialogue clearly. We don't mind the heavy Southern accents, but we like to hear the words that matter.
Email this article
PAPERBOY, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray, Scott Glen, Ned Bellamy
PRODUCER: Lee Daniels, Ed Cathell III, Cassian Elwes, Hilary Shor
DIRECTOR: Lee Daniels
SCRIPT: Lee Daniels, Peter Dexter (novel by Peter Dexter)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Schaefer
EDITOR: Joe Klotz
MUSIC: Mario Grigorov
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel T. Dorrance
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 28, 2013