The Paperboy (2012) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Eldest son Ward Jansen is a star reporter for a Miami newspaper and has returned home with close friend Yardley to investigate a racial murder case. Younger brother Jack Jansen has returned home after a failed stint at university as a star swimmer. To help give his life some direction, Ward gives Jack a job on their investigation as their driver. But into the mix comes the fiancée of the imprisoned convict who stirs up confusing feelings of love and lust for the young Jack. Meanwhile, Ward and Yardley's investigation stirs up deep-rooted issues of race and acceptance which could cause serious consequences for everyone involved.

  • Upon the publication of "his" novel, Anita Chester, a black woman, recounts the story which was presumably the basis of the novel. It was the summer of 1969, her story centered on her employers, the Jansens, a newspaper family of Lately, Moat County, Florida, she then their part-time maid. The family patriarch, W.W. Jansen, was editor of the local newspaper, the Moat County Tribune. Eldest son Ward Jansen was a well respected investigative reporter for the Miami Times, his stories largely on issues of civil rights. Youngest son, twenty year old Jack Jansen, a former champion swimmer, was also an aspiring writer, recently returned home to deliver newspapers for his father having been expelled from college. With Ward and Jack's mother long out of the picture, Anita had been the only motherly influence in Jack's life, a mother he would have never considered their father's then girlfriend, Ellen Guthrie, who had a sense of privilege being what she considered more well bred solely because of her New York upbringing. Beyond her wedding ring, the only thing Jack had of his mother's was her belief not to engage in sex outside of marital love, which he still believed himself. That summer, Ward returned home with a British well bred, well spoken black colleague, Yardley Acheman, to investigate the 1965 murder of local corrupt sheriff, Thurmond Call. Hillary Van Wetter, from the wrong side of the swamp, was on death row for the murder, but it was largely regarded that he was a scapegoat - being not a well respected person himself - his lawyer who put up no real defense on Hillary's behalf at the trial. Ward and Yardley enlisted Jack's help as their driver while in Lately. Ward and Yardley being given this assignment was largely on the impetus of letters from Charlotte Bless. Bleached blonde white trash from Mobile, Alabama, Charlotte had routinely written to inmates including Hillary. Despite never having met in person, Hillary and Charlotte became engaged. As such, Charlotte became integral to the investigation, she who accompanied the trio to the prison whenever they needed to visit Hillary. Complications ensued when Jack himself fell for Charlotte - his first love - who he saw, if he were to admit to himself, his mother, a high school sweetheart, and an oversexed Barbie doll all rolled into one. It becomes clear that Anita's recollection of the situation is not so much to tell if they are able to prove Hillary innocent, but rather to relay the interrelationship between this collective of players, most specifically Ward, Jack and Charlotte, and how Jack's love for both played into what happened.

  • A reporter returns to his Florida home-town to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • An idealistic reporter, Ward Jansen (McConaughey) and his younger brother, Jack Jansen (Efron) investigate the events surrounding a murder to exonerate a man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack). Wetter has been jailed for the alleged murder of an unscrupulous local sheriff, Thurmond Call. Call had previously stomped Wetter's handcuffed cousin to death. Wetter is now on death row and awaiting execution. The Jensen brothers are helped by Ward's colleague, the ambitious black British man Yardley Acheman (Oyelowo) and the seductive Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a woman Wetter has never met but who has fallen in love with him and is determined that he should be released and that they should marry. In prison Wetter receives correspondence from her consistently.

    Charlotte tries to prove Wetter's innocence by requesting the help of Ward and Yardley, who are both investigative reporters from the Miami Times and are hungry for a salacious story. Ward returns to his hometown to investigate the case but has mixed feelings about returning home to his estranged father (Glenn),and his new girlfriend, Ellen (Gordon) who distribute the Miami Times in their town. Both the Jansen brothers dislike their father's new girlfriend. Jack is the paperboy after having been expelled from college for vandalism. His only real friend is his black maid, Anita (Gray) who narrates the story.

    The evidence against Wetter is inconsistent and the writers are confident that if they can expose Wetter as a victim of redneck justice then their story will benefit them greatly. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte who only desires Wetter. Anita realizes that Jack can never stop thinking of Charlotte as she is his first love. One day, with some information from Wetter, the Jansen brothers travel to the swamp to meet Wetter's uncle (Bellamy) who has evidence that he did not commit the crime.

    Ward is soon revealed to be a closeted homosexual when he approaches a pair of sadistic gay men who rape and torture him. During Ward's time in the hospital, Yardley prints the news article despite not getting all the facts right. Jack tries to convince Yardley to stop, but instead discovers that Yardley is actually American, but had to pretend to be British because local black men could not be successful unless they lied about their backgrounds. Yardley had also given Ward sexual favors in return for position in the paper.

    Wetter is eventually released from prison and takes Charlotte away to the swamp to live with him. She is unhappy and sends a letter to Jack telling how much she hates her new life. During their father's wedding, a recently recovered Ward and Jack go to save Charlotte. However, the escape plan is flawed and Charlotte and Ward are killed by Wetter, who is then arrested for their murder and executed on the electric chair as planned originally. Towards the end of the story, Anita reveals that Jack never forgot his first love.

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