Sunday, October 21

The Paperboy Review

The Paperboy
Dir: Lee Daniels
Starring: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman,
Matthew McConaughey, and John Cusack

The Paperboy is a steamy, sweaty mix of several different themes. A kind of pulp meets noir with dashes of racial conflict and journalistic ethics all wrapped in a crime story. Sounds like a bit of a mess, well at times it is. Still, Lee Daniels' film composes some interesting qualities amidst some startling and effecting sensations.

The film lingers towards other tangents but mostly surrounds the investigation of a murdered local lawman by one Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a crude swamp dwelling alligator hunter. Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) is the journalist, returning to familiar hometown surroundings, to examine the case of proposed injustice. Ward enlists the help of his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron),  a paperboy for the local newspaper, to assist in his efforts.

The story is narrated by Jansen family maid Anita Chester (Macy Gray); Anita is a hard-working and spirited woman who has a close relationship with Jack. Ward is given opportunity to interview Hillary in prison through Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a femme fatale of sorts with a fondness for incarcerated men. Jack becomes infatuated with Charlotte's misguided flirtations, while Ward trudges desperately deeper into mystery surrounding Hillary. And just as the swamps they encounter are murky and muddy so are the personalities and ambitions of the characters in this lurid tale.

Lee Daniels, who directed Precious, works hard to keep a firm grasp on the difficult narrative aspects of this film. There are stark moments when the film strays aggressively with sudden scenes for pure sensation, for instance a butchering scene involving an alligator and the treatment of a jellyfish sting involving urination. These moments, though not always gratuitous, unfortunately stall the progression of the film and redirect it in strangely muddled ways. Daniels seems too reliant on pulp qualities to forward the progression of the story, which is unfortunate because when it’s utilized as assisting factors the film moves forward with interesting substance. There are some genuinely good elements working in this film, the treatment of race, the examination of masculinity and femininity, and the process of journalistic integrity are all interweaved well throughout.

Lee builds moments of suspense in a mostly straightforward and non-surprising mystery by the excellent performances from the cast. Every character is hiding something, whether it’s crucial information or forbidden emotions, the maze of the mystery lies in the characters. McConaughey is again fantastic garnering an impressive streak of films this year. Efron does well to steady the film with a leading role, but is best when paired in scenes involving Anita or Ward. Kidman’s performance of the oversexed Charlotte isn’t bad though it’s not particularly good either. Whether it’s the script or simply the ambitions attributed her character, she is lost amidst the elements at times.

Some of the best moments in the film come from Ward’s traveling assistant Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). Yardley seems composed of all the other characters defining qualities, and utilizes them in begrudging and motivating ways.

Lee Daniels doesn’t seem content with making a typical, run of the mill mystery story but instead opts for a film far more ambitious. At times The Paperboy works with stunning regard but sadly also falters by focusing too much on sensation instead of substance.

Monte’s Rating
3.50 out of 5.00

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