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USA 2013
Directed by
Lee Daniels
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Paperboy

Lee Daniels directed the heartfelt 2009 drama Precious about the trials of a seriously overweight black girl trying to make her way in the modern world. The Paperboy, a Southern Gothic murder mystery is a very different film – one which is quite compelling despite the tawrdiness of its subject-matter.

The story, set in the 1960s in a small town in Florida, concerns Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) who joins his older brother, Ward (Matthew McConaughey), in investigating the conviction of death row inmate Hilary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and falls in love with Hilary’s trashy girlfriend Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman).

Nicole Kidman as Southern white trash? John Cusack as a psychotic Florida swamp-dweller?  Matthew McConaughey as a journo with an appetite for serious bondage? Macy Gray as a sassy house-keeper?  And Zac Efron in the middle of it all? Yes it’s all here. Individually each of the actors is marvellous with an against-type Kidman and Cusack alone being worth the price of a ticket

One can imagine that The Paperboy read very well on the page (Peter Dexter, the author of the 1995 novel also worked on the screenplay with Daniels), the tense atmosphere of black-white relations in the South in the 1960s, sexual and social repression providing the context for a tale of gruesome murder and backwoods madness. Despite taking a distinctly elliptical approach to his story with the film unfolding as a series of separate incidents leading to an ironically tragic conclusion Daniels transposes all this to the screen with intelligence, never falling into the clichéd.

There are a couple of small worries and they are that Macy Gray's voice-overed narration is too articulate to suit her character and it is not easy to explain how she knows so much about what took place, even so, the casting is refreshingly novel and all the performers rise to the occasion making this a surprisingly effective genre film.

Available from: Village Roadshow




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