The Grand Floridian Tale

The Paperboy

paperboy

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, Matthew McConaughey, Macy Gray, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, Ned Beatty

Before controversial director Lee Daniels become famous for his film about the American civil rights movement in The Butler, he tackled the big screen adaptation of American writer Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel The Paperboy about journalism, ethics and sultry desire in the humidity soaked state of Florida in the mid-sixties.

Matthew McConaughey’s conscious decision as an actor to shed his Rom-Com image and star in more controversial films is evident in this edgy thriller as he bravely  takes on the part of Ward Jansen, a hard-drinking Miami reporter who returns home to Moat County, Florida to investigate the gruesome death of the town Sheriff and the consequent arrest and incarceration of the chief suspect Hillary van Wetter, a rural swamp dwelling redneck, dangerously played by John Cusack.

Add to the explosive story of murder, lust and betrayal is Ward’s younger brother Jack Jansen the scantily clad swimmer played by Zac Efron and van Wetter’s supposed prison fiancé the trashy yet resourceful Charlotte Bless, in a surprisingly different turn by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) making The Paperboy an intoxicating mix of pulpy journalism, sacrifice, mystery and tragedy, all atmospherically played out in the sweltering summer of 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Paperboy is not for sensitive viewers and contains some controversial scenes in this unusual yet absorbing thriller including a scene where Kidman’s character Bliss urinates on the writhing jellyfish stung torso of Jack on a Florida beach, in a sequence which even shocked hardened Cannes Film Festival audiences at its 2012 premiere.

There are other equally gruesome and lurid scenes in The Paperboy, but the acting is topnotch especially from Kidman and McConaughey, the latter was clearly preparing for his groundbreaking Oscar winning performance in the recent Dallas Buyers Club. Whilst the narrative of The Paperboy is crude, shocking and ultimately tragic, what would audiences expect from the controversial director of Precious?

Unlike the superbly written and hugely stylish novel by Pete Dexter, the only criticism of Lee Daniels film version is that the ending is slightly altered. For those audiences that thought McConnaughey did a sudden transformation for Dallas Buyers Club, then its best to watch his more shocking performance in The Paperboy to see his ongoing evolution as an actor.

With a groovy retro soundtrack and a fabulous sixties, almost sultry Southern ambiance inspired by the more violent films like Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning set in the same period, The Paperboy is a gritty and brilliant thriller of one man’s desperate attempt to uncover the truth at all costs despite the damage it causes to himself and those around him for the sake of journalistic integrity. For in The Paperboy the Story becomes paramount despite the terrible cost of human sacrifice.

Pop star Macy Gray and David Oyelowo (also seen in The Butler) as the smooth talking Yardley Acheson round off the cast of The Paperboy which shows that teen heartthrob Zac Efron (Charlie St Cloud, Hairspray) can really hold his own onscreen against Oscar winners Kidman and McConnaughey. This Grand Floridian tale is recommended viewing but not for those easily offended.

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