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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's hard for me to understand the scorn that has been heaped upon this
film. You'd think Lee Daniels had created a film praising Hitler, the
Antichrist, and communism. Also, it's hard to understand why some
critics have focused on certain aspects of the film. Zac Efron in his
"tidy whities" or Nicole Kidman urinating on Mr. Efron. The level of
titillation that is being shown would be credible in a 7-year old, but
not for adult critics. To focus on these rather minor points shows a
deep misunderstanding of what this film is about.
So, what is this film about? While I think it's hard to reduce a work of art to the level of a short essay, I am so fed up with what has been written about this film that I shall attempt to do so.
For starters, I believe this film reflects the world as it is, and not as we want it to be. I think this film is saying that our deepest need is for love, connection, and moral truth but these needs become warped when filtered through the lies,despair, and degradation that American society has offered up as the truth. Mainstream films never go here, and while some indie films touch on this theme, they don't usually go for as deep a dive. The only other director that I can think of even approaching this level of an unblinking stare into the abyss is Todd Soldendz.
The characters in the film consist of Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), a journalist who has come back to his home town to investigate whether or not Hilary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a man on death row, received a fair trial. Ward's attention has been drawn to this case by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has maintained a jail house correspondence with Mr. Van Wetter, and who believes she is in love with him. Ward brings with him a colleague, Yardley Acheman (David Oyewolo), a black journalist from London. They are assisted by Ward's younger brother, Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), who still lives at home. The Jansen family maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray) is Jack's confidant and a stand in for the mother that left the family several years ago.
Each character's story is that of connection or love that has been twisted or thwarted for various reasons. Jack's playful relationship with the family maid can never be a relation between equals because of his racism. Jack can see that she is his natural ally and friend, but his racism denies them both a deeper connection. As brothers, Ward and Jack share a powerful bond of affection, but no amount of affection between the brothers can halt Ward's impulse to self-destruction brought on by his inability to accept being homosexual. Charlotte Bless is looking for love and thinks she can find it by writing to men in prison. She receives a response from Van Wetter, and because of its seeming indifference to what other men want from her, she decides this man loves her. The delusion is so powerful that even when real love is offered by Jack, she doesn't understand it. The film doesn't make it clear why she is so self-destructive. We can only assume it is the logical end to the toxic sexism that forces women to see themselves as worthy only if they are desired by a man; any man. Jack's impulse toward love and connection with this woman is driven by the damage done by the abandonment Jack experienced at the hands of his mother.Yardley is a black man trying to have a decent career as a journalist at a time (1969) when racism almost guaranteed that black men remain in lowly positions and did not allow them to rise to their full potential. It is this very racism that makes him betray his colleague and his principals and forces him to assume an identity other than his own. Van Wetter is, I think, a kind of stand in for a force of nature. It is when you face up to these kind of forces that your innermost strengths and weaknesses are revealed.
Through these characters, Lee Daniels is showing the damage done to human relations, forcing people to act in ways that are not pretty to watch, and so the world he shows us is not pretty. It's hard and brutal. But so are the forces that drive these characters. To the critics who hated this film, if you want pretty, watch Lucy and Desi. Mr. Daniels world is the real world; flawed, messy, and hard to look at, but with humanity and the impulse to transcendence at its core.
First off, I'd heard of Zac Efron, somewhere, I thought he was some
teeny bopper's fantasy. But this kid is no lightweight. He's quite good
here in an ultra adult film, as is everyone else, all playing against
type: Kidman as a slut, McConaughey as a sexually troubled man, John
Cusack as a backwoods maniac, and Macy Gray as a lovable servant.
My wife hated the movie but couldn't take her eyes off of it. And by its end, we were both thinking that was quite a ride. What more do we want from our movies? Everyone here, maybe a little less so with Efron who's the novice, abandons themselves to their parts. I didn't even catch Gray in a misstep though she's a novice too. They all channel their people quite successfully in a well-directed though not for the kids, movie that manages to shine a light on a south that actually was and for all I know still is in places.
After watching the movie I was asking myself what the heck did I just
watch, but whatever it was I liked it....Now first off this movies is
not for everyone, it's extremely sexual, violent, and at times
confusing, but it is never dull or plotting. The story is captivating
and the actor/actresses pull you in right from the start and never let
go until the ending credits roll. The storyline is unique and original
with it's crazy cast of characters. Don't try and out think this one,
go with the flow and let this backwoods swamp tale take you on an
mesmerizing journey into a world you'll be glad you were able to
I'm going to say a few things about some of the actors/actresses as they truly do make this a must see movie. First Matthew McConaughey, if he's starting to get type-cast so what, he is absolutely wonderful in this role...bravo. Nicole Kidman is sensational, once again proving no matter what the role she excels and is without a doubt one of the very finest actresses of our time. John Cusack takes on a very different type of character than what you've seen of him the past and really shines and delivers a riveting memorable performance. The entire cast of this movie deserves credit for bring life to this Lee Daniels film.
I've noticed that some reviewers are giving this a less than glowing review, but in my humble but accurate opinion, this is an excellent piece of film making and should be given it's rightful praise for what it is....OUTSTANDING!!
The Paperboy (2012)
*** (out of 4)
Lee Daniels' adaptation of the Peter Dexter novel taking a look at some swamp trash and a mystery surrounding them. Reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his hometown to try and solve the mystery behind a sheriff who was killed. Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is on death row for the crime but the reporter believes he is innocent and drags his younger brother (Zac Efron) and a trashy woman (Nicole Kidman) into things. THE PAPERBOY is a pretty unpleasant look at a bunch of characters you can't help but hate and it's funny to see McConaughey really changing his "image" here as well as in the year's earlier KILLER JOE. I think the best thing about the picture are the performances as well as the authentic feel that director Daniels brings to the picture. The biggest problem is the screenplay and a story that I just felt wasn't all that captivating. The entire mystery surrounding what really happened to the sheriff seems to take a backseat and it really just seems to come and go at times. I'm really not sure why it was thrown in the background as much and especially with the twists that come towards the end. With the twists you'd think that the filmmakers were wanting the story itself to be important but it just never really takes off. It also seems that the director wants to shock the viewer with some rather graphic violence and sexual situations, which have the stars all doing some pretty wild things. It really does seem as if the film is just building up to each of these scenes and it's fair to say that they're quite memorable. The performances from the entire cast are terrific with both McConaughey and Kidman doing wonders with their swamp trash characters. I thought both of them were incredibly believable and hats off to them for going as far out as they did. I was also impressed with Efron and thought he handled the character's development quite well. Cusack was terrific playing the creepy bad guy and we also got strong support from David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn and Macy Gray. The cinematography is also good as is the music score and the atmosphere. THE PAPERBOY, as is, is a good showcase for its stars but you can't help but feel it's a missed opportunity as a stronger story would have made it even better.
I understand why some people think this movie is OK. It has some good actors, and it explores some dark issues. Unfortunately it is a roller-coaster ride going from mundane to awkward with little point to the journey. There is no cleverness, no real plot, and nothing of note to keep you watching except for the hope of a good ending. Too much effort went into trying to shock the viewer than went into actually making an involving story. The characters are obviously intended to polarise viewers, but they have tried too hard and the characters have been made uniformly unlikeable. The ending shows promise, but then true to the movie's form, it crashes back to mediocrity. The flashback concept is also so pointless. It has no relevance and no real callback to the present. The consequences of the story lead nowhere, and your are left feeling that sitting through this movie was equally pointless. The dialog also leads to confusion, it doesn't help to engage you at any deeper level and I couldn't really be bothered to dissect it too much. This paperboy does not deliver.
This film reminded me quite a bit of "Deliverance." It's about how
well-meaning people can end up way over their heads by getting involved
with people and subcultures with which they're not familiar. It's less
riveting than "Deliverance" but has more sympathy toward its
The plot revolves around a small group of people who join forces for a cause: A woman who wants to free a prisoner she's become enamored of (by mail) and a couple of newspaper reporters who want to dig up the truth about the crime. One of the reporters is seeking justice, the other has a slightly different agenda. The idealistic reporter has a younger brother (Zac Efron) who is an innocent. Innocence, idealism and romanticism come up against opportunism and sociopathy and some of what happens is not too much of a surprise. The end of the movie had a great deal of dramatic potential and could have been more suspenseful in the hands of a more polished director. The movie overall is somewhat lurid, a Southern Gothic, but not as lurid as some critics have claimed. Overall it is a movie with some poignancy.
The Paperboy is one of those films that has a fine cast, a director
with a track record (Lee Daniels, Oscar nominated for Precious) and an
interesting plot, but will be rarely seen and largely forgotten by
year's end. Sometimes there is no justice in the film world; just ask
Ben Affleck about being overlooked by AMPAS as Best Director this year
It's well performed, directed with few flaws and the cinematography hits the spot perfectly, but the trouble is, in terms of ratings, that it isn't easy to sell. Essentially, The Paperboy is a dialogue-driven film about an idealistic reporter, Ward Jansen (Mathew McConaughey), who returns to his hometown in the backwaters of the red-necked American south to investigate the conviction of a man on death row convicted of murdering a sheriff. When Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), the infatuated pen-friend of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), the murderer in question, approaches Ward for help, he recruits his bother Jack (Zac Efron) and colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) and sets about investigating ineptitude and corruption surrounding the case.
It isn't a pretty story, it doesn't race along at breakneck speed and it isn't a film that haunts the viewer long after the credits have rolled. It is, however, a thoroughly enjoyable tale that meanders through some murky and terrible swamps, both literal and metaphorical, and will satisfy those with a penchant for the underbelly of society.
Based on a true story and one from the official selection for Cannes 2012, The Paperboy is a dark story that at times is very unpleasant. It goes to places you almost certainly want to avoid in your life. There are no sweet and lovely two-dimensional characters here but 'regular Joes' with twists in their psyches and the relationships between the principal four keeps us on our toes. Each has secrets or sides to their characters they try to hide and each is capable of damaging another willfully and yielding or ignoring their conscience after the event in their own self-harming manner.
Efron shows signs of shaking off his teenybopper roots and it is encouraging to see him take a long and effective step away from such pulp as last year's predictable The Lucky One. At last we see something of a character developing from him, and Jack's relationship with the maid, Anita (Macy Gray), who also narrates much of the story, gives a hint of warmth to an otherwise cold and twisted collection of characters.
Both McConaughey and Kidman stepped away from the 'beautiful' roles sometime ago, though there is still a feeling of them playing 'against type' here, which isn't fair as both are very fine actors with some startling performances in recent years. Here they allow themselves to be engulfed by the perversions of their roles and are eminently watchable though you wouldn't much 'alone time' with either of them. Gray is overlooked largely and, though her Anita is supposed to be the all-seeing character that fills in the gaps for us, she feel inconsequential much of the time.
It is Cusack that startles most of all here. He often frustrates as a fine actor in turkeys (Hot Tub Time Machine, The Raven) and then blindsides us with another performance we've been desperately hoping for. As Hilary he initially causes reserved sympathy from us as he stumbles into the scene disheveled and emotionally crushed. We can almost smell the grease in his hair and his fetid breath and recoil at the thought of Charlotte sharing anything more than a letter with him. But he evolves and repulses as The Paperboy unfolds in a performance every bit the antitheses of his signature role, Martin Q. Blank, but equally memorable. Whilst an unpleasant character with whom to share time, the performance is absorbing. Just please don't let this be the last time we enjoy Cusack for another five years.
Daniels has crafted a film of relationships with confused issues. Life isn't always clear-cut and often it is just plain dirty. Though less successful, financially, than Precious, The Paperboy is a far more mature film with a great deal more flare. Although Daniels hasn't had the courage to shoot it entirely in the style of the period, there are enough references to the late sixties and seventies with split screens and flares to transport us back the era of segregation and Tarantino's favourite word.
It won't last long at the box office, but The Paperboy is a DVD treat for an evening that calls for something more than schmaltz or easy laughs and requires some emotional investment.
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'THE PAPERBOY': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
An all-star cast highlights this bizarre dramatic thriller based on the book (of the same name) by Pete Dexter. The cast features Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn and Macy Gray all playing against type in unusual roles (for each actor). It was written (along with Dexter) and directed by Lee Daniels (who is most well known for directing the critical darling and Oscar nominated 'PRECIOUS', which was also based on a popular book). The movie itself has gotten mostly bad reviews but Kidman has gotten plenty of high critical praise and award recognition for her performance in it (including a supporting actress Golden Globe nomination). The rest of the cast has been well received as well and Daniels is still seen as a skilled director but the trashy content of the film as well as it's overall muddled nature have been negatively criticized by many. I agree with the criticisms but still feel like I have to give it a lot of respect and credit for what it does manage to accomplish.
The film revolves around a man named Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack) who's on death row for the murder of a local sheriff in a small Florida town. He's been communicating with a woman, Charlotte Bless (Kidman), he's never met via letters. Charlotte believes she's in love with Hillary and calls on the help of two reporters from Miami, Ward Jansen (McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (Oyelowo), to help her prove he's innocent. Believing new evidence is available the two reporters travel to the Florida town, which is a return home for Ward (to the town he grew up in). Ward visits his dad (Glenn) and his new girlfriend (Nealla Gordon), who distribute his paper there. He also reunites with his kid brother Jack (Efron), who helps with their investigation. Jack is young and inexperienced with women and immediately falls for the sexy Charlotte. The Jansen's maid Anita (Gray) is Jack's only friend and she narrates the story.
The movie is sleazy and trashy pulp like the films of yesteryear. Daniels brings a lot of style to his storytelling but it's still a mess. The visuals are often haunting and disturbing and you never really know where the film is going or what to make of anyone or anything in it. It is bizarrely interesting though and entertaining in a somewhat bitter way. Like a lot of films it has a lot of great moments but a lot of bad ones in between as well. The cast is all fantastic; Cusack is very strange and creepy, McConaughey seems to be playing a character like many others he's done before but he does take a sharp character twist, Efron is good as the shy yet determined heart of the film and Kidman is fantastic as the sex obsessed vixen. The movie is a mixed bag but it definitely has it's qualities.
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Great actors, horrible movie. The story was rambling, confused, and
seemed to be dark just to be dark.
The narration was horrible; Macy Gray is incoherent throughout. I'm sure there was a reason to have a narrator, but the fact that she was completely unable to be understood kind of eliminates the benefit.
Characters were poorly developed and there was never any build up to explain their behavior.
The director seemed to be searching for ways to degrade every character over and over and over. This movie was disturbing without any redeeming quality at all.
Don't waste your time or your money.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you're going to make a movie with a voice-over narrator, the first step must be finding a voice the audience can clearly understand . Macy Gray is an able enough actress in small doses but she's far too inexperienced and has much too odd and weak a voice for the role. But the failure of this film lies almost entirely with the bumbling of director Lee Daniels. Had this inept effort been his first directing job Precious would never have been made. The film is structurally muddled, with surrealistic fantasy sequences mixed with hard realism and big splashes of sexy Southern Gothic melodramatics. The sound recording is, in the main, low and nearly inaudible. The cinematography is the standard indie mix of shakycam amateurishness, lens flare and out of focus artsiness. The story meanders wildly and with no particular focus on any of its several narratives strands. The acting is more interesting than good, with McConaughey, Cusack and Kidman playing against type but too no real purpose. Lee Daniels crush on Zac Efron's torso means Efron is showcased lovingly but at an embarrassing, centerfold length. Several reviews I've seen called this movie a "hot mess." I'd emphasize the "mess" end of that critical construction.
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