A sexually and racially charged film noir from Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious), The Paperboy takes audiences deep into the backwaters of steamy 1960s South Florida, as investigative reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) chase a sensational, career-making story. With the help of Ward’s younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) and sultry death-row groupie Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), the pair tries to prove violent swamp-dweller Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was framed for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. Based on the provocative bestselling novel by Pete Dexter (Mulholland Falls, Rush), The Paperboy peels back a sleepy small town’s decades-old facade of Southern gentility to reveal a quagmire of evil as dark as a Florida bayou.
What a potentially brilliant Oscar sweeping film this was and what a disappointment it turned out to be as a whole. This film is covered in moments of goodness and actors too good for the film, and Zac Efron – in underpants for nearly the whole film but by the end the crappy screenplay and direction bring this film down way low to become a messy, shock factor scene film with a complete lack of cohesion.
Firstly, the cinematography by Roberto Schaefer is brilliant, the film has an incredible look and feel of the 60s and I was literally sweating at the heat (actual summer heat, not sexual heat from the leads) captured on the film. I fail to imagine why anyone would want to live in a place like this – all I think about is mosquitoes and gaters. Then there is the screenplay, written by Director, Lee Daniels, who is known for the Oscar winning Precious. It just fails to ignite, going from shocking scene to shocking scene with little substance nor care for the characters. This is the ultimate failure for a film, the actors are superb but if the substance they are showing isn’t there the film loses the plot, literally.
The shocking scenes are abundant, there is Nicole Kidman’s character (Charlotte) basically masturbating in front of everyone, then there is the scene where she literally pisses all over Zac Efron’s character (Jack). Or there is Zac himself who basically made my year by wearing nothing but underpants in most of the film, but this was just a sexual tease from the director who probably thought this would equal bums on seats, I found it distracting to the story to say the least. Then there is Matthew McConaughey’s character (Ward) who is so ashamed of his gay sexuality in the times that he hates himself for it so is constantly pissed and in love with a straight black man that he decides to get himself gang banged and assaulted with dildos and nearly beaten to death. We won’t even discuss Cusack’s character, Hillary, besides mentioning he is just one creepy assed mofo that deserves the electric chair.
Now therein lies the appeal to the actors, these roles are so damned challenging and they literally bring it all to the table. This is one of Nicole Kidman’s best performances, it is so outrageous but so believable and her tragedy plays out well. She is one messed up piece of delusional sexuality. Zac Efron looks good and mostly acts good, he was the only character I actually cared for in the film because he was so naive and just horny. The stupid young messed up kid was going to have his life ruined because of teenage hormones. Like I said, he has the most amazing body and to see him nearly naked the whole film was a huge distraction, but one thing I did notice, I found him a bit intimidated by the skilled talent around him – he pulls it off but he was uncomfortable when Nic was having her way with herself and both Nicole and Matthew outshone him by leaps and bounds in their performances. McConaughey’s performance is amazing but also disgusting, he was a gay man we don’t want on the team. There was one other character I loved I need to mention – Macy Gray, as Anita, the maid. She is there to let the audience know it is the 60s in the US and black people have to get treated like shit. I suppose this was the redeeming factor for Jack and Ward, they both didn’t buy into the racism and to them she was their nanny and maid growing up and they loved her more than their parents.
The hard part that I think sucked for the film, I literally did not care what happened to them. They were all such messed up individuals stuck on their stupid paths to destruction. We choose our own destinations and paths and if you really want to get onto a new path just bloody do it. This wasn’t a tragedy, it was stupid choices made by dumb people.
I have head this film described as abominable from Cannes and then one critic described it as grungy noir from an exploitation period. I completely agree with this one. It is Exploitation Noir that is offensive and cares not for the viewer. It’s white trash extreme with some over the top superb acting and is worth seeing for Kidman. It will fail hugely at the box office but will get some critical kudos for it’s audacity and acting. It is out this Thursday 28th in Australia on an extremely limited release at art house cinemas only. See it for Zac in his undies and Kidman’s performance but that’s about it. Worth 6 out of 10 Gaters.