The Paperboy

Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Macy Gray & Nicole Kidman
In UK Cinemas March 15th, 2013

by Joanna Orland

Lee Daniels’ last film Precious was a triumph with much critical acclaim and awards nominations, the most notable win was Mo’Nique for Best Supporting Actress at The Oscars.  Daniels’ latest film The Paperboy uses a more powerhouse cast of actors alongside Zac Efron in the lead protagonist role.  The performances are all underplayed with dry subtlety that adds to the grittiness of this disturbing film.

Racially and sexually driven, this film, based on the book by Pete Dexter, takes the viewers to a swampy and sweaty 1960’s South Florida.  Investigative reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) comes back home to investigate the truth behind prisoner Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and his belief that he was framed for the murder of the local sheriff.  With Ward accompanied by his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), death-row groupie and Hillary Van Wetter admirer Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), and younger brother Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), this bleak and gruesome story unravels through the eyes and narration of the one time Jansen maid Anita, played by Macy Gray who is oddly cast in a role of not a crack addict.

With Gray’s narration as the main form of exposition, this film does everything it can do to be influenced by the film noir genre, including jazz piano tunes playing over key dramatic moments.  This film noir approach very much detracts from the drama behind the film.  If Daniels directed the film as a straight drama, it would have had a more serious impact, as the content and performances are very heavy, disturbing and lingering.  But when some of the key plot points are disrupted by Macy Gray drawing attention to the fact that we’re viewers watching a film, or a jaunty piano tune playing over top of a scene, sometimes it’s Motown instead, it’s distracting and takes the viewers out of the moment.  Even so, some of Macy Gray’s lines were very solid and key highlights themselves, including the one where she calls Nicole Kidman’s character an “oversexed Barbie doll”.

Perhaps years down the road, film critics will look back at The Paperboy as an underrated filmic masterpiece.  But in present day, it is trying too hard to be something that it’s not – a film noir.  Wonderful performances, upsetting content, and uncertainty are all what makes this a good film, but it takes a long time to digest as it’s far too bleak to deal with in the moment, and far too confusing with its mesh of genre influences.


Leave a Reply