DVD Review - The Paperboy

Nicole Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild for her role in The Paperboy. She plays Charlotte Bless, a trashy woman living in the back woods and swamps of Florida 1969. Who knows what she does to support herself, but in her spare time she writes love letters to prison inmates. Why she does this is unclear. She's supposedly looking for love and supposedly finds it with Hillary Van Wetter, played by John Cusack.

Hillary is in prison for killing a cop but Charlotte believes that he's innocent. She decides to work with a Miami newspaper reporter named Ward Jansen, played by Matthew McConaughey to get him released. With Ward, there's his younger brother Jack, played by Zac Efron, and a black writer named Yardley, played by David Oyelowo (Red Tails and Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Narrating the whole story is Anita, the housekeeper to the Jansen family, played by Macy Gray (Training Day and Idlewild).

Oscar-nominee Lee Daniels directs and co-writes this film, based on the novel by Peter Dexter. The movie has heat. It has physical heat. It has sexual heat and it has racial heat. From the way Daniels shoots it, you feel that heat. The images almost have the screen sweating. With his music choices, camera moves, super-imposed and over-exposed images, Daniels delivers a 1960s vibe.

Daniels was up for Best Director at the Academy Awards. He was recognized for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire. Yet, tonally and thematically, Daniels is more in-line with his directorial debut Shadowboxer (2005). It's provocative for provocation's sake. The only problem is that The Paperboy doesn't have the emotional pathos that Shadowboxer had.

The driving narrative is centered on the cop killing for which Hillary was convicted. Everyone else is working to free Hillary of this crime. The question is why. When we meet Hillary, he's clearly not a good man. Hillary is brutal and disgusting. He's sexist and he's racist without any doubt. Ward suspects that Hillary has been falsely convicted, but even if that's true, no one in their right mind could possibly believe that getting Hillary released is a good idea.

McConaughey as Ward brings the same gravitas that he brought to films like The Lincoln Lawyer or A Time to Kill, but the gravitas feels ill-placed in this situation. I never understood why Ward continues to visit this guy and work so hard to release him from prison. At no point does Charlotte's love for Hillary make much sense either. Yes, police corruption might be at work, but I don't get why any one cares about Hillary at all.

Ward goes to visit Hillary and Hillary refers to Ward as Charlotte's "paperboy." He also refers to Jack and Yardley as paperboys too. During the prison visits, Jack and Yardley don't speak, but essentially Jack is the protagonist. Jack is the main character. As such, the physical heat, sexual heat and the racial heat fall squarely on Jack.

In terms of physical heat, Jack is portrayed constantly in his underwear. It's not enough to have Zac Efron walking around shirtless. Daniels has Efron in every other scene in nothing but his tidy whities. After the premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Daniels didn't bother to argue the thematic heat idea that I am. Daniels admitted that because he's gay and likes looking at good-looking, naked boys, that's why he had Efron practically nude.

In terms of sexual heat, Jack is introduced as a horny swimmer who frequently masturbates. He's presented to Charlotte who is far hornier than Jack and who is dangled in front of him like a sexy piece of candy. There are two scenes in particular that exist to tease and titillate Jack as well as the audience. The first is the scene in the prison parking lot between Jack and Charlotte where she recalls sex. The other is the scene that involves Charlotte masturbating herself in front of everybody.

In terms of racial heat, Jack drops the N-word. Aside from McConaughey and Kidman, every white person in this movie exhibits racism toward the two black characters, Yardley in particular. Yardley is militant and almost encourages it by getting in people's faces. Anita is in many ways like the maids in The Help (2011). She doesn't take a stand. She merely does what she's told, no matter how demeaning. It's interesting to see Jack take to her and not to him.

In a later encounter with a different, nameless black man, the results are violence. Daniels depicts every moment that Jack has with a black man negatively. It's later revealed that one of the characters is gay and subsequently a homosexual encounter is also depicted negatively as a result. Daniels is himself a gay black man, so one wonders if this movie is a way of getting at that pain on both sides.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong sexual content, violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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