Monday, 1 April 2013

The Paperboy - A Flawed Masterpiece?

'The Paperboy' is just one of those films. Straddling the middle ground between crowd pleasing thriller and pretentious arthouse fare, Lee Daniel's latest may alienate most audiences but that just means they're missing out on what may be one of the most original and exciting films to hit cinemas in a long time. Many panned it upon its initial release but 'The Paperboy' has since picked up many positive reviews by critics who argue that the film deserves to be re-evaluated as a homage to the exploitation genre, rather than just a trashy 70s style film with no real substance. 'The Paperboy' is not perfect by any means yet I'm sure it's destined to become a cult classic in years to come. It's also a fantastic excuse to see Zac Efron in his pants, just so you know. 

'The Paperboy' is a Southern based thriller/melodrama that revolves around the lives of people affected by the murder of the town sheriff. Fingers have been pointed at a man named Van Wetter, who is now on Death Row for the crime but local journalist Jansen sets out to prove his innocence with the help of his brother and the local skank who has fallen in love with the inmate.

For what sounds like a fairly straight forward plot, the film can become somewhat confusing at times and character motivations are sometimes even murkier than the swamps that surround their homes. This issue is certainly not the fault of Daniel's cast however, who shine throughout in one of the strongest ensembles I have seen this year. 

Let's start with the obvious shall we? Nicole Kidman is a revelation. A sheer force of nature. She steal every scene she's in. She should have won an Oscar. She... I'm running out of cliched plaudits but I do think that in years to come, people will look back on this performance and recognise it as the beginning of a new stage in Kidman's career. 

For anyone who's dismissed the actress in recent years for the icy matriarchal roles that she has become best known for, Kidman's performance as Charlotte Bless is genuinely shocking and the fierce sexuality of her character can make for uncomfortable viewing at times. What's perhaps most surprising however is how beautiful Kidman looks. She's supposed to look trashy as hell and the makeup team have definitely managed that but there's something freeing in seeing Kidman lose her composure with such a raw sensual performance. Watching 'Moulin Rouge' again, all I'll be thinking of now is Kidman climaxing in a state prison visit or urinating on Zac Efron's face to ease his jellyfish stings.

Matthew Mcconaughey has had an incredible run of films recently and his role as reporter Ward Jansen may just finally allow us to forgive him for the embarrassing 'rom-com years' of the early 2000s. The relationships Mcconaughey forges in 'The Paperboy' with his onscreen brother and his reporting partner are both very believable and while he only gets a few standout moments to shine, Mcconaughey is impressive throughout, relishing every moment in the sleazy Florida backdrop.      

But what about 'The Paperboy' himself? With a CV that includes such highlights as 'High School Music' and '17 Again', the words 'Zac Efron' and 'serious actor' have not exactly gone hand in hand before, but this could be the film that changes everything. For me, Efron shone in a more mature role that showed him finally developing as a young actor, one able to even hold his own against award winning veterans such as Mcconaughey and Kidman. It's hard to believe that the steaming pile of crap that is 'Charlie St Cloud' was only released a few short years ago. It's also worth mentioning that Efron looks AMAZING throughout! The camera practically makes love to him in every shot and if you're a fan of Efron for his looks alone, you will not be disappointed. Every other scene shows him in his pants. No joke. 

Lee Daniels has become a director of considerable clout following the success of 'Precious' and so its understandable that these big name stars were drawn to star in 'The Paperboy'. However, one of the standout performances in 'The Paperboy' was a surprisingly low-key appearance by RnB singer Macy Gray. Much like Mariah Carey in Daniel's previous film, Gray brings a gritty realism and humour to what could have been a caricatured or even faceless role. Here's a clip of the star talking about her part in the film.

From the viewpoint of the family help, Gray's narration provides a fascinating insight into the years immediately following the Civil Rights Movement, where a lot of work was still needed to be done in the fight for racial equality. I found this period of history to be fascinating but the narration became somewhat muddled at points, which left me wishing that these issues could have been explored further. 

Yes 'The Paperboy' has its flaws. John Cusack is ridiculously over the top as the sex crazed inmate, some may accuse the film of being pure trash and at points, the story just seems to float along at its own strangely languid pace. However, it's impossible to deny the sheer talent behind the camera. 

In 'The Paperboy', Daniels once again combines terrifyingly dark yet realistic themes with stunning technical ingenuity in a way that feels completely natural. One of my favourite sequences occurs when Efron's character fantasises about Kidman running towards him in a wedding dress. Many directors would have perhaps just opted for a soft focus that could have given Kidman a stunning ethereal quality and that would have looked great. Daniels does do this but enhances the scene further with a range of overlapping shots of Kidmans face from both close up and afar. By also distorting the chronology of the sequence, Daniels achieves a stunning dream like effect that perfectly captures both Efron's reverence and lust for her character. Genius.    

'The Paperboy' will not be to everyones tastes, that much is clear, and I can appreciate why it is so divisive but personally I loved it. Give Daniels latest film a chance and you'll see that it is so much more than just a trashy 70s style exploitation movie. And if that doesn't do it for you, then just go see it for Zac Efron in his pants. Either way, I hope you won't be disappointed. 

So what do you think of 'The Paperboy'? Is it a flawed masterpiece or just a terrible film? And who do you think gives the standout performance? Let me know by commenting, liking and sharing below.

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