An outrageous screenplay, disciplined direction and dedicated acting make this film a disturbing success.
Lee Daniels knew he was going to have to come up with something big to follow up his indie blockbuster “Precious.” His latest film, “The Paperboy” might just fill the bill. If it is a little more sensationalistic (not to its credit), it is definitely more thrilling.
Watching this southern fried potboiler, you will be taken back to the days of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” combined with “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “Sling Blade” with a substantial dose of haywire Robert Mitchum in “Cape Fear” thrown in for good measure.
Interviewed at a press conference after the New York Film Festival press screening, director Daniels explained that, in spite of having his own production firm, he had almost no control over the financing of the film. All of the money came from others and this meant a tough, screwed down and serious filming schedule. Three takes and that was it. It had to be right by the third take.
The result of this discipline, along with the professionalism of leads McConaughey, Kidman and Cusack and supporting actors Efron and Oyelowo is a screen performance that holds on to you like an Everglades ‘gator from start to finish.
One comparison is the even more stripped down, lean and mean film Lars van Trier thriller “Dogville.” Staying a little more in the mainstream, “Paperboy” at least has sets and scenery. Whereas “Precious” was a social commentary set in the most urban environment in America, “Paperboy” is exactly the opposite.
It takes place in a small town in the Deep South and in the depths of the swamplands where few people could even survive, let alone maintain something resembling a household. It is a story of poverty and ignorance that goes as far back as the beginnings of America.
Matthew McConaughey plays Ward Jansen, a Miami Times reporter who returns to his hometown in the rural Deep South to reopen a murder case everybody wants closed. This is a familiar enough story, until the outrageous Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) comes onto the scene as the only person who can get convicted white trash ne’er-do-well Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) to cooperate.
Charlotte is the most outrageously sexually uninhibited free spirit ever seen on the popular screen. Her very character would normally send a screenplay to the trash bin. This is one aspect of the courage it took to make this film. Kidman’s performance is one of the most courageous ever filmed. It may be second to those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique “Precious,” but not by far.
The, there is the courage it took Director Lee Daniels to make this film whish steps over the line into poverty porn even more than “Precious.” It is not bad enough that convicted killer Van Wetter is ten out of ten on both the sexual perversion and sexual dysfunction scales.
Worse is that there is a hint of a suggestion that he might be, in some way, typical of the people of the rural south. This may have crept into the film unintentionally, while director Daniels was being snubbed by the locals for being black and gay, a dangerous two strikes in the Deep South. In any event, it strikes a nasty note in an already viscerally upsetting movie.
The R rating for this film is no joke. It is hard to imagine what teenagers might get out of, unless they are serious and extremely mature film-oriented kids.
In the press interview, Daniels stated that one of his overriding goals in filmmaking was to cast actors in roles, in so far as it is possible, that are the opposite of their previous filmography. Consider the extraordinary transition Mo’nique made in making “Precious” after a string of comedies.
Although Kidman has come close to the brand of explicit sex contained in this film, this is far beyond anything she has done before. You will never see Zac Efron in quite the same light, again, even if it is in a Disney movie. David Oyelowo channels Sidney Poitier for much of the film, when he is not outdoing Poitier’s “In the Heat of the Night” performance.
Overall, fine, tight performances coupled with an outrageous, riveting screenplay make this a great film. Accompanied by a soulful soundtrack of rock oldies and solid cinematography by Roberto Schaefer, lenser for “Monster’s Ball” and “Kite Runner.”
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Directed by: Lee Daniels
Written by: Lee Daniels and Peter Dexter (screenplay), based on the novel by Peter Dexter
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack
Release Date: October 5, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for strong sexual content, violence and language
Run Time: 107 minutes