WRITTEN BY: Lee Daniels, Peter Dexter
DIRECTED BY: Lee Daniels
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray
RATING: 3.5 stars
Brave and daring. That is how best to describe The Paperboy. It may also be a little confronting for some people, so don't say I didn't warn you. How the film was overlooked for so many award nominations, particularly for its stellar cast, I'll never understand. It somehow manages to blend genres to be gripping, dark, sexual and even a little funny at times. Director/co-writer Lee Daniels is the man who directed 2009's Precious, so you know he is not afraid to push the boundaries on film. Oh yeah, and Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron. It's a great piece of cinema.
Based on the novel by Peter Dexter, who also co-wrote the screenplay, The Paperboy is set in 1969. Investigative journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his home town in South Florida with his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to do research on a murder that Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) has been jailed for. The men believe Wetter could be innocent and enlist the help of Ward's younger brother Jack (Efron) and a promiscuous woman named Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who has become infatuated with Wetter since writing him letters while he was in prison. The odd group work together to try to set Wetter free but soon Jack falls in love with Charlotte, which only serves to complicate everything.
While the plot itself is intriguing and will keep viewers guessing, it is the performances from the actors that really draws audiences in. Kidman should have received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the ultimate white trash woman who falls in love with a man on death row. She is fantastic. In one scene where her character meets Wetter for the first time, the characters are so infaturated with each other from their letters that they are able to simultaneously orgasm while sitting metres apart and surrounded by three other men. It must have been incredibly awkward to film that scene and yet it works perfectly. I have been less than impressed with Kidman's acting in recent years, but she has won me over again with this role.
McConaughey is also a stand-out performer. It's easy to forget he can actually act when he often spends so much time on camera prancing around with his shirt off. His character in The Paperboy is multi-faceted and it's interesting to see his character arc through the film. Cusack is also rather frightening and the role is a great challenge for him. Oyelowo and Efron were probably the weaker performers but they still held their own. I can't understand half the things Macy Gray says but her character's relationship with Zac Efron's character is both believable and endearing. She plays the house maid but she is really a mother figure for Jack.
Although the film dips into a lull in the middle, it comes back for a strong finish. While The Paperboy is not a film I would recommend for the masses, simply because of its dark sexual nature and violence, it is a film I thoroughly enjoyed.