The Paperboy

30 Aug

the paperboy



Director: Lee Daniels

Writers: Peter Dexter (screenplay), Lee Daniels (screenplay)

Stars: Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman

Motion picture rating: R

Runtime: 107 minutes


Peter Dexter’s novel The Paperboy was an award winner in 1995 and here he adapts the screenplay with the director Lee (Precious) Daniels. It has taken years for the novel to reach the big screen with Pedro Almodovar set to direct it for a long time, but ultimately acting as producer. That Almodovar loved the story is not surprising. It is a pulpy mash up of themes close to his Spanish heart (closeted love, strained familial bonds, and the devil inside). That an American director took the reins is a good thing as Daniels gives it a thorough drenching of southern liquor, violence, sex and sweat.

The film opens with the 1969 murder of a sheriff in the south of Florida as recalled by retired housekeeper Anita (Macy Gray). A local swamp-living petty criminal called Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is quickly convicted of the murder. The swiftness of justice alerts Miami journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey). He returns home to investigate the Van Wetter case. He brings on board his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) as a driver as he heads out to interview the convicted murderer. Besides Jack, the visitors include Ward’s writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) and a local woman called Charlotte (Nicole Kidman) with whom Van Wetter has been corresponding.

Jack is the eponymous paperboy and Anita is the long-standing Jansen family housekeeper. There is no shortage of interesting characters and most are supported by overlapping plots. It is a complex stew of stories, but at its centre are the criminal Van Wetter, his ‘girlfriend’ Charlotte and the crusading journalist Ward. The actions of the three of them drive the behaviour of the rest, but it is from Jack’s perspective that we mostly observe the drama.

As with the underrated film Killer Joe (with McConaughey again), The Paperboy focuses on imperfect protagonists living in impoverished surroundings. It is the so-called under-belly of America. And in this 1970’s Floridian setting it is a hot, sticky, racist, homophobic and violent place to be. There are some brutal scenes in this movie and they will upset many. Cusack plays his character to perfection, but he is a horrible piece of work and deeply unsettling. Kidman is also fantastic as the doomed object of Van Wetter’s and Jack’s attention. She captures a bit of Satine from Moulin Rouge, but it is a much bigger performance with some outlandish scenes.

I finished this film open-mouthed and feeling more than a little punch drunk. I was also exhilarated. It is satisfying to see such a bold and black tale from a relatively mainstream US cast and crew. If you have the stomach for it, this is definitely worth two hours of your time.

One Response to “The Paperboy”

  1. Chianna August 21, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    Whoever edits and puileshbs these articles really knows what they’re doing.

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