After its recent slating at the Cannes Film Festival, with audiences mooing (yes, mooing!) after seeing the initial screening, I went in to The Paperboy with a lot of trepidation. Indeed, with a cast that includes Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, and the consistently terrible Matthew McConaughey, there was nothing more than the appeal of seeing a slummed-down John Cusack that drew me in. It seemed a worthy cause to offer this film a chance, but one that, within the first five minutes was instantly regrettable.
We are sent into the world of the American Deep South during the 1970â€™s, where skinning alligators and casual racism are the localsâ€™ pastimes, and the sweltering heat causes everyone to become scantily clad. When hotshot reporter Ward Jansen (McConaughey) comes back to town, trying to free the potentially innocent Hayley Van Wetter (John Cusack) from death-row, we begin to see the dangerous corruption the encompasses a criminal charge of this nature. Ward enlists the help of his younger brother Jack (Efron), the sexually-charged Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who Jack immediately falls in love with, and his writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) a black Londoner, in order to crack the case open. However, no sooner have they started their work than do things start to turn sour, as friends begin double-crossing one another, love interests cloud motivations, and scrupulous locals try to hinder any progression with the case.
The Paperboy had every potential to become a nice mix of A Time To Kill and To Kill A Mockingbird, with the race and class undertones that were there to access, and it could have had as much a punch as In The Heat Of The Night with its subject matter. However, all of the action, conflict and drama of the overriding prison sentence gets lost, as instead we focus on the strange twisted relationship that develops between Jack and Charlotte. And therein lies the problem that writer-director Lee Daniels (Precious) has created for himself – the tone of the film is far too confusing. It isnâ€™t quite about race, the law, or even the newspaper industry, and therefore loses its poignancy, and the ensuing relationship is so farfetched that it completely loses its realism. The story is pointless, the ending is absurd, and halfway through you just want the barrage of absurdity to end.
At the end of the day, this film will only be remembered simply for its shock factor. With scenes including some post-jellyfish-sting-urination, non-contact orgasms, and an extremely surreal case gay bashing, there are several key talking points, all of which would make you feel very dirty for watching them. However, they are included for all of the wrong reasons, and therefore become cheap tricks to bring in curious audiences.
Overall, The Paperboy had a lot of potential. It could have been an emotional, tense journey for all those involved. Instead, it is an over-long piece of drivel where, for once, McConaughey puts out the best acting performance. If you have any sense, you will stay very far away.
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Video reproduced from YouTube / LionsgateFilmsUK
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