‘The Paperboy’ proves strange but compelling nouveau−noir picture
Movie Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 08:10
Between recent indie hits and big Hollywood blockbusters, the film noir genre is making a comeback.
If a film could paradoxically be both refreshing and stale, a respectful homage to old films while still falling short as a modern blockbuster, it would be “The Paperboy.”
Zac Efron plays Jack Jansen, a college dropout and paperboy who lives in the backwater suburbs of 1969 Florida. His journalist brother, Ward (Matthew McConaughey), returns home from Miami to investigate the trial of convicted cop−killer Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack).
He’s assisted by his partner, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), and a woman, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who has been carrying on a correspondence with Van Wetter and is sure of his innocence. Anita (Macy Gray), the Jansen family maid, recounts the story from the future in an interview shown in the opening scene.
Inhibited by Van Wetter’s unwillingness to cooperate and Jack’s love for Charlotte, Ward struggles to work with the convict to get more information about the conviction. The southern town’s establishment is against the journalists, working to hide any information that might uncover how they did not give a fair trial. Deep in the murky swamps of Florida, Ward and Yardley discover that this case will pull them into a scummy world of alligator skinners and prison masturbation, racism and ’60s culture.
This film provides an honest but exaggerated image of Florida during the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Although this is not itself a major factor of the film, the tension between white southerners and the British−born, black Yardley and the black family maid is a defining theme of the film. Jack’s New Yorker stepmother is the character who is most disrespectful to Anita, and while her relationship with Jack is usually playful, it becomes awkward and serious after she overhears him use a racial slur against Yardley.
The loss of Jack’s mother leads him into an exploration of the human need for love after loss, as he falls in love with the much older Charlotte. She exemplifies this desire for love in her correspondence with many violent criminals.
Lee Daniels’ direction provides a wide picture of the suburban South, juxtaposing clips of alligators in swamps with shots of long highways and flashy cars. The music is well put together, an appropriate homage to the time. It often provides excitement when upbeat and positive songs pair ironically well with violent scenes of beatings and stabbings.
Matthew McConaughey’s Ward is tortured, and his portrayal of this character and his dark secrets is convincing, fresh and somewhat surprising, given McConaughey’s typically silly roles. Nicole Kidman is excellent as Charlotte, a character whom the audience will fall in love with while pitying her for her self−inflicted downfall. Her raw performance is incredibly emotional and volatile.
Zac Efron, in an attempt to contribute to a serious role following his early establishment as a Disney star, does well as the hopeful and in−love Jack. He sometimes pales next to McConaughey and Oyelowo’s Yardley, but he is strong in his youthful innocence as he tries at the same time to grow out of it. His character seems to almost reflect the actor’s own career.
John Cusack is horrifying as Van Wetter, a convincing and creepy lifetime criminal who has no respect for the woman who loves him. His family, living deep in the swamps, provides a background for his character.
“The Paperboy’s” story is sometimes choppy, with parts of plots opened up and not closed, including Yadley’s mid−movie departure and Jack’s career as a college swimmer. However, the film provides an overall satisfying story, from its in−depth introductions to the exhilarating and violent air boat climax, and offers a fresh take on old themes.