NYFF 2012: ‘The Paperboy’ Review
Based on a true story and the bestselling novel by Pete Dexter, The Paperboy follows Miami Times journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) as they take up a career story involving the potential mistrial of a death row inmate named Hilary van Wetter (John Cusack). They discovered the story through Charlotte Bless’ (Nicole Kidman) letters in which she explains why her fiancé Hilary is innocent and that he should be set free. Upon Ward’s arrival, his brother Jack (Zac Efron) is recruited to be their driver and, at the same time, that’s when Charlotte shows up and immediately steals Jack’s heart despite the age disparity between the two. Directed by Lee Daniels (Precious), The Paperboy is a tense film noir that only seems to really come together in the final act.
The film is told and narrated by the Jansen’s housekeeper, Anita Chester’s (Macy Gray), but is really seen through the eyes of Jack as we follow him throughout the picture, experiencing his first true love and having to battle with other people to make her his own. He has to put up with Yardley, a black man who he needs to battle with in order to get his brother’s attention, a reporter that he looks up to. Through his eyes we witnesses the deterioration of Ward as progress on the case comes to a halt and his dark side surfaces, bringing out some scary demons that Jack didn’t expect eventually leading Jack to poor decisions which result in some devastating consequences.
Much like in The Help with Octavia Spencer, it’s the paperboys’ help, Macy Gray, that steals the show and with her wit and constant comic relief. Macy Gray was terrific and really stepped up for this role. She added an extra dimension to the film that helped bring clarity to the situations we saw unfold and acted like a mother to Jack except in a slightly more raunchier way. Nicole Kidman nailed her role as the southern trashy slut in both acting and appearance. Her trashiness truly shined in a scene in which she takes a piss all over Zac Efron’s face. Yes, that happens and I’ll leave it at that.
The big surprise for me was Mr. Cusack. I’ve never really been a fan of John Cusack because he acts and sounds exactly the same in every role I’ve seen him play but by God did this man pull something miraculous out of his ass for Lee Daniels. Cusack plays a sexually driven piece of swamp rat scum and man does he bring a level of ferociousness that makes him scary to watch. While watching the movie, I couldn’t believe it was Cusack, there was no way, but when the end credits rolled and his name popped up it assured me that he was in fact Hilary and that he was good. He may have had only five to 10 minutes of screen time but he made the most of it, especially during a sexually charged scene where he and Nicole Kidman have sex from a distance and while practically fully clothed. It was weird.
Though I seemed to have rambled on and on about the film’s merits, overall I was say it was just a decent movie. The film felt like it dragged and the whole mystery/film noir aspect was more of a backdrop to the relationship web that was scattered throughout the picture. It was only in the third act where I felt I was engrossed in the film because that’s when the characters became interesting, exposed themselves and tension began to boil. Despite the final 30 minutes being good, it doesn’t make up for the slow, steady pace of the rest of the film and the lack of interesting drama throughout the rest of it.
Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy is a well made film where most of the weight is carried by the strong performances of its actors. If all the pieces didn’t fit together this would have been a bomb but luckily a strong cast helped elevate this film noir to slightly above mediocrity. It’s a slow movie and isn’t something everyone will enjoy but if you want to see some randomly explicit scenes or John Cusack actually act then I’d suggest giving it a go, otherwise feel free to wait until Daniels’ next film, The Butler.
Rating: A slow and average film noir elevated by solid acting and its thrilling climax (6/10)