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Film Criticism by David O'Connell

The Paperboy

February 27th 2013 03:26



What a wonderfully lurid, sleazy, twisted southern jewel this new film from Lee Daniels is. Replete with off-beat characterisations, pointless diversions, and a swampy, murderous atmosphere, this is certainly a film that defiantly marches to its own beat. Does it have mass appeal? Not on your life. Is it packed with unsavoury elements sure to repel certain audiences? Yes, yes, yes!


In the 1960ís a lawyer, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), returns to his small Southern home town to investigate the case of a man, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), he believes has been wrongfully arrested for murder. Aided by his Miami co-worker, British writer Yardley (David Oyelowo), naÔve younger brother Jack (Zack Efron), and the woman, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who, through letter exchanges with men in prison has finally settled upon Hillary as her perfect man, Ward begins to dig deeper into the case. The whole lurid episode is viewed as a flashback and narrated by the Jansen familyís all-knowing maid Anita (Macy Gray).

Though the narrative clearly plays second fiddle to the characters that heedlessly drive it along, a rough, raw vitality is what energises Danielsí left-of-centre vision for adapting Pete Dexterís novel to the screen. This rawness is also reflected in the often unconventional visual approach which sets a dulled, dirty colour scheme against strangely incongruous perspectives. You could argue the whole project has been haphazardly wrought but the approach feels daringly original in its own crazy way.


There are memorable scenes aplenty, including the notorious but hilarious urination scene involving Charlotte and Jack, and another vividly realised sexual encounter of sorts in the jailhouse. But itís the work of the performers that will linger longest in memories. McConaughey continues his hot streak of recent times which peaked with William Friedkinís Killer Joe (2012). Efron proves heís capable of actively striking out against his wholesome image whilst negotiating some tricky scenes with Kidman. Then there's the startling Cusack who blows perceptions of his once romantic lead status to smithereens.

But itís Kidman who shines brightest; her daring, luminescent turn is a wonder to behold. Rarely has she been more magnetic on screen, channelling every white trash vixen from a back-catalogue of Jerry Springer specials. Offensive, demented, lazily plotted and overflowing with extraneous lurid asides, The Paperboy (2012), for all its shortcomings, is at least a memorable, deliriously idiosyncratic concoction.










The Paperboy opens in limited release in Australian cinemas on Thursday, February 28.






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