Director Lee Daniels follows up his critically acclaimed masterpiece Precious with a very different endeavour in the form of The Paperboy. Based on a 1995 novel by Pete Dexter, the film is a story of murder, sex and race, all set against the backdrop of the Deep South in late 1960s.
The story centers around Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a trashy blond who enjoys striking up relationships with prison inmates. Bless falls for a particular felon called Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) who is due to be executed for allegedly killing a police officer. Determined to see her man set free, she enlists the services of Miami Times reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) to investigate the case, as he has a passion for sniffing out injustice in the criminal system. So along with his writing partner, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), he returns to his native hometown to investigate the possible injustice. Ward's younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), who distributes the local paper also comes along for the ride and acts as a driver for his older brother during his time investigating the case. The story is narrated by the brothers' maid, Anita (Macy Gray).
The Paperboy is a straightforward enough story , however Daniels chooses to somewhat divert from the main storyline and take the audience down several bizarre subplots involving Jack's infatuation with Charlotte Bless as well as the darker side of his older brother Ward, both of which ultimately lead to a unexpected conclusions. This is somewhat of an odd film; visually it is very appealing and shot in an extremely unsympathetic fashion, with harsh colours and contrasts, clunky cuts from scene to scene. These features give the film a very old, low-budget feel, which actually fits perfectly for this type of film. However The Paperboy throws too many curve balls and tries to deal with too many issues to be taken seriously, and certain scenes and storylines feel as if they were simply thrown in for dramatic effect and fail to add to the narrative. One minute we are focused on Jack's pent-up sexual issues (he seems to spend the majority of the film with exposing various body parts and lying in his room staring at the ceiling in his boxer shorts), next the murder investigation, then comes the racial tension, not forgetting deep dark secrets held by the main characters. It's all a bit of a hot mess.
The one thing that you can't fault about The Paperboy are the performances, in particular Nicole Kidman, who delivers an absolutely fantastic performance as Charlotte Bless. Kidman plays the sultry, blond, white trash character superbly. Efron also puts in a great stint and demonstrates that his High School Musical days are well and truly behind him. Cusack's gives a chilling performance as the sinister Hilary Van Wetter and the ever reliable McConaughey does a great job as the inquisitive reporter.
The Paperboy is far from a masterpiece, it's a disturbing, odd, confused film . However, it does have a certain quirky quality that makes it a film worth watching. Daniels transports the audience to a weird and strange place in the Deep South, and really creates an environment that captures the imagination, all set to a mesmerising original score from Mario Grigorov. However Daniels imagination got the better of him and he indulged just a little bit too much and perhaps if he would have exercised a little restraint, The Paperboy could have been a far more enjoyable film.