At its Cannes debut The Paperboy may have either caused the audience to run riot with contempt or stand in ovation for a day and a half - depending on whose account of events you have heard. Either way I absolutely loved Lee Daniels's The Paperboy. It plays like To Kill a Mockingbird via the dark (very dark) and twisted underbelly of a good Jim Thompson, Carl Hiaasen or Charles Willeford novel.
My literary analogy here is superfluous because Lee Daniels's film is based on a book by Peter Dexter, a respected author who also wrote the screenplay. Dexter's life is seemingly more interesting than any film or book could be and echoes some eerie similarities to events portrayed in The Paperboy - including the notable (and beggars belief) evening which has become known as the "Grays Ferry incident". It all ends with boxer Randall "Tex" Cobb* rescuing Pete Dexter from certain death by mob - but breaking his hand in the process and missing a fight against Muhammad Ali which in effect ended Cobb's very promising boxing career. More about Randall "Tex" Cobb and why you probably already know this larger than life character already.
|The Paperboy Film Poster|
|The Paperboy Nicole Kidman as wanton Charlotte Bless|
If The Paperboy struggles to find an audience I would be rather bemused as the same people who tear down films for lacking originality seem to feel The Paperboy is a bridge too far - failing to see the genius pearls behind Lee Daniels's The Paperboy.
|The Paperboy Ward Jansen, Matthew McConaughey Jack Jansen, Zac Efron & Yardley Acheman, David Oyelowo on the case|
The reason Ward is in town is that Charlotte Bless (played by Nicole Kidman), an enigmatic loner who writes to prisoners on death row, has convinced them that Hillary Van Wetter (played by John Cusack), an unsavoury alligator hunter from the backwoods, was wrongly convicted at a trial that took place near their hometown.
|The Paperboy Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bless|
The Paperboy works for me on two levels; as a hard hitting noir-esque crime thriller set in the swamplands of Florida with a backdrop full of dangerous and murky set ups (& alligators) and personalities that twist and turn as Matthew McConaughey's Ward Jansen gets closer to the truth whilst trying to free John Cusack's Hillary Van Wetter from death row.
|The Paperboy John Cusack as Hillary Van Wetter & Matthew McConaughey's Ward Jansen discuss his case|
It also one of those rare treats - a coming of age tale that works for me. As a rule of thumb I generally struggle with POV coming of age tales as I find that if you don't buy into a particular perspective the story crumbles but Zac Efron bring a charismatic exuberance to Jack Jansen's aimlessness, buoyed by own arrogance and on the verge of manhood unsure of which way to go but with enough selfish inertia to push him forward. As the world around him changes and becomes more pertinent as he awakens into adulthood. Efron bounces off the others characters magnificently bringing idealism and youthful righteousness to the core of The Paperboy.
|The Paperboy Jack Jansen, Zac Efron & Yardley Acheman, David Oyelowo fight it out|
The two levels come together in an extraordinary tale full of colourful and engaging characters fleshed out and brought to life by incredibly brave performances across the board. Between the actors, Daniels's direction and Joe Klotz's editing there is not a beat missed as Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and David Oyelowo all get their teeth into the extreme personalities of their characters, playing against type.
|The Paperboy Ward Jansen, Matthew McConaughey & Yardley Acheman are going to get to the bottom of this|
A special mention for Matthew McConaughey building on his outstanding performance from Killer Joe to bring this, his finest performance in recent years to screen (I can't wait for MUD if it continues this streak). He is absolutely sublime and when I said that you have never seen McConaughey like this before in Killer Joe - The Paperboy trumps it and then some. You will be squirming in discomfort.
|The Paperboy Ward Matthew McConaughey & Jack Jansen, Zac Efron deep in the bayous|
The Paperboy is sexy (in the trashiest of ways), colourful, compelling, brave and imaginative. If I had to be critical I struggled a little with the shifts in mood and events but this all became part of the charm of Lee Daniel's absolutely spellbinding and outstanding The Paperboy. It goes straight into The Establishing Shot's Top 10 film of 2013 at No.2.
*In case the name Randall "Tex" Cobb is familiar yes he is the same Randall Tex Cobb who fought one of the most brutal boxing fights ever broadcast on live TV. Cobb lost the championship to Larry Holmes but refused to quit or go down and his beating from Holmes was so severe that leading sports presenter Howard Cossel stopped covering boxing. Cobb went on to star in various films bringing his own wit and charm to each role as well as become a champion MMA fighter.
I can't find the exact clip but he is indelibly planted in my mind as Leonard Smalls the biker bounty hunter from the Cohen Brothers Raising Arizona - He was horrible, a warthog from hell.
The Paperboy is in cinemas this Friday 15 March 2013
A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
Director: Lee Daniels
Writers: Lee Daniels (screenplay), Peter Dexter (novel)
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, David Oyelowo & Scott Glenn
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