Film Review: The Paperboy

| 1 March , 2013 | Reply

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Directed by: Lee Daniels (Precious)
Starring: Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer), Zac Efron (The Lucky One), John Cusack (Grace is Gone), Macy Gray (For Colored Girls) and David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Sassi’s Star Rating: 2.5/5

The Paperboy is a dark and disturbing film based on the novel by Pete Dexter. It is the late 1960s and the town of Lately, Florida is not as it seems. Scrape its veneer and you will find more than ladies afternoon tea parties and home baked pecan pie. Pure evil resides here and is personified by Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a man awaiting execution for the murder of the local sheriff.


Nicole Kidman plays Charlotte Bless, a woman deranged by her desire to rescue convicted criminals. She falls in love with Van Wetter prior to meeting him, and decides to contact him on death row. There has been much talk about Kidman taking on the steamy role of Bless, and her courage in portraying this emotionally disturbed and sultry character who uses sex to get men to do what she wants.

Matthew McConaughey plays an investigative journalist (Ward Jansen), who is approached by Charlotte to look into Van Wetters case. Ward becomes obsessed with the story and hopes to find the inconsistencies that will uncover a wrongful conviction. It’s possible that he sees it as an opportunity to promote a human rights agenda but his motivation is not really clear.


Ward’s assistant, Yardley (David Oyelowo) is interested in achieving widespread acclaim for the story, as indicated by events later in the film. Ward also enlists the help of his naïve and idealistic younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron). The brothers’ long-term housekeeper Anita is played by Macy Gray, and in the absence of their mother, Jack in particular seems to see her in a maternal light. He is immediately attracted to Kidman’s Bless, and much of the movie is about Jack’s desire for her.


Lee Daniels chooses to exploit the contrast between the sexual worldliness of Bless and the innocence and vulnerability of Jack. Anita (Macy Gray) and Jack seem to be the only characters without an inner dark side, and serve as the light by which to measure how far the others have fallen.

A strange interlude occurs when Bless urinates on Jack after he is stung by a school of jellyfish. I didn’t include a spoiler alert here, because rumors about the existence of this scene have accompanied this film since its first unveiling. This may have worked in the book, and may have been intended for comic relief. However it doesn’t translate well to the screen and comes across as rather odd.


The Paperboy is set in a politically charged period of Southern history, and racism is a strong theme. You need a strong stomach for some of the material in this film. I had to cover my eyes a couple of times. There are graphic sex scenes and bloody violence and a belief that some people are beyond any hope of redemption.


The cinematography, art direction and wardrobe for The Paperboy does a convincing job of transporting us to 1969. The way it is shot conveys an early 70s feel which is interesting, and the acting is well delivered. All of the actors fully inhabit their roles. If you like film noir, and certainly if you are a Nicole Kidman fan then you may like to have a look at The Paperboy.

A sometimes grisly exploration of the dark side of human nature, set against a racially and sexually charged 1960s Southern backdrop.

The Paperboy, in cinemas now!


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Category: Film & TV

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