Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy is a dark and exploitive tale of sexual desire, murder and questionable journalistic and legal practices in 1960’s Florida.
Adapted from Pete Dexter’s novel, the film follows reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) as he returns home to investigate the trial and conviction of Death Row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack).
Acting on information provided by Van Wetter’s pen pal Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), Ward and writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) are joined by Ward’s younger brother and wannabe reporter Jack (Zac Efron).
As their quest for the truth progresses, the colleagues and brothers discover a few secrets about one another, and their actions have tragic consequences for all…
Set against a bright colour palette which offers a highly stylised depiction of the the period, The Paperboy is a messy and confused film which punishes its audience by inflicting on them some truly ropey dialogue, and editing so choppy that it actively distracts from the story being told.
If the stop/start direction and leaping scene changes weren’t enough to give the film a disjointed feel, it’s further fragmented by the inclusion of period uses of narration from Anita (Macy Gray), the Jansen household’s housemaid, which add nothing to the proceedings.
With Kidman’s squeezed into a seemingly unlimited run of revealing outfits and Efron’s torso placed endlessly on display, The Paperboy looks a lot like I’d imagine ‘American Pie Does Investigative Journalism’ would.
This is a film that seldom aspires above giving the audience a bit of eye-candy. But, given the hard to swallow story, especially the brutal and mindless finale, I can understand Daniels wanting to distract audience with a generous glimpse of flesh.
McConaughey and Efron give fine performances, but the acting honours go to Kidman and Cusack who transcend the by-numbers plot and insipid dialogue, infusing the film with an energy and intensity it really doesn’t warrant.
The Paperboy is released March 15th.
Our verdict: 2/5