The Paperboy (2012)
A film I had never heard of, starring Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, and Matthew McConaughey? That surprised me, when I noticed it was being shown on TV. So I decided to settle down and watch it.
This is set in the steamy hot south of the USA, in rural Florida, during the late 1960s. It is narrated retrospectively by the excellent Macy Gray, (the singer) who also has a lead role. Straight off, I should state that the film has some violence, some sex and nudity, and a lot of racism, with the ‘N’ word used throughout. There is considerable effort to establish the time period and location, with small town vistas, swamps, everyone sweaty and hot, and all the usual ‘good ole boy’ staples associated with films about this part of America. If you have seen a John Grisham adaptation, and anything set in Louisiana, combine the two, and hold that thought.
To the story. After the killing of the fat old sheriff at the very start, local poacher Hilary Van Wetter is convicted of the murder, and faces execution. The owner of the local newspaper, W.W. Jansen (Scott Glenn) suspects he may not be guilty. He sends for his oldest son Ward, (McConaughey) who is a successful reporter in Miami, to investigate the case. Younger son, Jack (Efron) also works for the newspaper, doing odd jobs and delivering the copies to local shops. He is ‘The Paperboy’ of the title.
Working at their house as cook, cleaner, and general servant is the doughty Anita. (Gray) She has seen the sons grow up, and gets on well with young Jack. She also gets to see the events unravel, hence her role as narrator, during an interview with someone we never see.
Not far away, lives Charlotte Bless. (Kidman) She is a flaky forty-something ‘white trash’ woman who lives in a fantasy world. She writes to prisoners all over the state, sending them photos of herself, and indulging in lurid communication with them by letter. One prisoner in particular appeals to her, and she becomes excited when he asks her to visit him. Of course, it is Van Wetter (Played by a suitably loathsome John Cusack) Meanwhile, Ward arrives in town, accompanied by a black colleague, Yardley Acherman. (British actor David Oyelowo) Yardley’s presence as a cultured and smartly-dressed black man, with a British accent, causes some confusion in the Jansen household, who are not used to entertaining black people as guests. They move Yardley and Ward into the family garage, where they begin their investigation of Van Wetter’s case. Young Jack is given the job of being their driver, and he is happy to be around his admired older brother.
The team decide to approach Charlotte, and ask to accompany her to visit Van Wetter in prison. On the way, Jack becomes overwhelmingly attracted to Charlotte, who is flirtatious and very attractive. Van Wetter supplies an alibi for the night of the murder, and they begin to investigate the case in more detail. To avoid spoilers, I will leave it there. To say much more would give away not only the ending, but most of the events leading to it. However, keep reading, as there is more of this review to come.
This film received average reviews. It is not that well thought of in the industry, or by critics. McConaughey plays his usual languid, confident self. If you have seen ‘Killer Joe’, or ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, you know what to expect. Efron is ideally cast as the impressionable younger son, but anyone half-capable could have played the part. Scott Glenn looks great in his role as the owner of the newspaper, but gets very little to do. John Cusack relishes his part as the oily Van Wetter, lending a real nastiness to the role. Macy Gray holds the whole thing together as the totally believable Anita, and though Oyelowo gives his best shot as the angry and determined Yardley, you have to wonder why his character was even there. The soundtrack features some good music that sets up the time and place nicely too.
Now forget everything I have already written, because one thing makes this film worth watching. Nicole Kidman gives a simply captivating performance as Charlotte.Not only does she look amazingly sexy, and overwhelmingly attractive, the fragility beneath the surface is always on show. She steals every scene she is in, and I could not stop looking at her. Not only have I rarely seen her look this good, I don’t think I have ever seen her give a better, or more complete performance. When she made this film, she was forty-five years old, and let’s not forget she is Australian. Yet she totally convinced me as a southern woman, lost in her world of fantasy and casual sex. I cannot stress enough just how good she is in this film. Yes, it has all the stereotypes of the genre. Maybe we have seen similar performances, in very similar films. There is some downright deliberately offensive sex, and occasional, perhaps unnecessary, violence. Read a review, and you may well be thinking you have seen it all before.
But you haven’t, because Kidman wasn’t in it. And she made all the difference. I loved it.