The Paperboy is a slightly loopy, gleefully trashy and occasionally entertaining adaptation of Peter Dexter’s steamy story of murder and sexual taboos in the Florida swamps.
The star-packed film, which is set in 1969, sees journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returning to his former home town of Somerton Florida to investigate the questionable murder conviction of slimy, white trash creep Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack). Ward’s investigation team includes younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), snobbish British-accented Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) and the woman who has bizarrely fallen in love with Hilary, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman).
Very quickly, plot coherence and story momentum vanish as the group’s investigation into the murder and Hillary’s guilt or innocence becomes peripheral. The film is more interested in immersing us in the sweaty white trash world of the Deep South, trying to evoke the racial and culture clashes of In The Heat Of The Night and exploring the friction between the major characters, particularly the sexual tension between Zach Efron and Nicole Kidman. The film often plays like a sexually charged fever dream; atmospheric but disjointed.
The film tries to conjure the look and sound of the late 60’s with grainy filtered cinematography and an admittedly excellent soul music soundtrack. This effect is undermined, though, by irritating jump cut editing that only adds to the story confusion.
With her bleach blonde hair, Cleopatra eye make-up and southern drawl Nicole Kidman looks and sounds convincingly white trash and delivers one of her better performances. Had she not managed to pull off some potentially ridiculous scenes (watch out for the Jellyfish stinger cure) this film could have been a major turkey. Her predatory sexual approach to Zac Efron would have been a sleazy highlight had Efron’s character been more than a bland, sullen youth. McConaughey delivers his usual laconic charm before his character takes a bizarre and unconvincing turn into more sinister territory. David Oyelowo is an amusing addition to the cast, his snobbish contemptuous matter reminiscent of Niles from Frasier. John Cusack, playing very much against type as a craven scumbag who seems to be channelling De Niro’s Max Cady from Cape Fear, is occasionally menacing but isn’t given enough chance to develop as a character.
Having set up an intriguing and tense scenario the film doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go and fails to keep us interested in the characters. A late detour into gory violence should have been confronting but ends up being clumsy and unconvincing.
This could have been a really engrossing Southern Fried drama but like some of the characters it gets lost in the swamp.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Lee Daniels.
Release date: 28th Feb 2013
Running time: 107 mins.
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