Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy is a wild, star-studded event that drags its characters through circumstances as murky and dangerous as its Florida swamp setting. Marrying the grittiness of Daniels’ otherwise unremarkable Precious with a disturbingly appealing story, the film’s pulpy throwback style makes lewdness cool and each dark turn an increasingly compelling glimpse at the bleakness of men’s souls. With its temperature and sexual energy cranked to a rolling boil, anything seems possible, and with a cast and filmmaker game for whatever, a little bit of everything is just what occurs.
Anchored by a host of unexpected casting, all of which pays off, The Paperboy centers on Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), a hot-headed young man recently dismissed from the University of Florida. Back home in the sweltering summer of ’69 and doing little, his life is given a lift by the return of his reporter brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey), in town with his colleague Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to investigate the possible wrongful imprisonment of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack). Aiding their investigation is Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), whose love letters with Hillary (one of her many death row correspondences) have led to an engagement and an access point for the newspapermen.
More interested in getting his rocks off than assisting his advocates, the repulsive Hillary marks a fascinating turn for rom-com friendly Cusack. His slimy nature is but one of the film’s many surprising moves and is matched by Kidman’s clueless floozie, whose sauciness stirs a remarkable leading man performance from Efron. More than capable of holding his own alongside such accomplished co-stars, his Jack bubbles with lust for Charlotte, a hatred of Hillary, and unshakable loyalty for Ward. With these competing emotions battling inside, an unpredictability lurks behind Jack’s boyish looks that takes him to situations he’s never dreamed of encountering.
As the calmer though no less haunted brother, McConaughey continues his career-best year with another confident turn. Likewise strong is Macy Gray as the Jansen’s maid, Anita Chester. Possessing one of the more distinctive voices in pop culture, her narration provides the story with a perfect amount of insight, just as her interactions with the Jansen boys imbues the film with a keenly developed racial awareness. Neither contribution is overbearing, however, as the film is more concerned with moving its dime-novel caper forward to the next crudely wonderful confrontation than delivering any significant message. Moralizing has no place in the swamp and any trace of it would likely kill the gruff authenticity the film’s players have worked so hard to achieve.
Further amplifying The Paperboy’s events, Daniels uses filters, image overlays, retro colors, and the occasional stuttered video to make the film look like a low-budget product of its time. A fine complement for the cast’s brash commitment, the visual bravado is yet another raw element that, regardless of how daring things get, wholly serves the story. Such an approach is certain to alienate more easily offended viewers and unashamedly makes itself known in the opening minutes. For those with an openness for Southern fried gothic storytelling, however, the film is debased entertainment at its finest.
Rated R for strong sexual content, violence and language.
The Paperboy is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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It’s still weird to me to think of Zach Efron as a real actor.
Me too. Even here, cussing up a storm, I kept expecting him to burst into “We’re All In This Together.”