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Film Review: The Paperboy


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As wild films go, The Paperboy is certainly an eyebrow raiser. Hugely melodramatic and often tense, this sexually-charged southern noir has divided audiences and received a poor reception at last year's Cannes Film Festival. But, beneath the sweltering and frequently outrageous surface, there lies an interesting film.

Loosely-based on the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, The Paperboy is a very odd affair and fluctuates between the bizarre and the downright strange. Set in the sweltering summer of 1969, the film sees newspaper reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) investigate a murder case which has resulted in an innocent man being sentenced to death row. Throw in an over-sexed bottle blonde (played by Nicole Kidman) and you've got a trashy thriller with a heavyweight cast list and plenty of atmosphere.

Indeed, The Paperboy does rather well in the atmosphere department, somewhat at the expense of a forceful and driving narrative. Lee Daniels' direction was rather limp in propelling the film along and allowed for too many seemingly irrelevant moments to really grip the audience.

Every frame of the film oozed cinematic heritage and looked as though they were photographed through a 1954 Leica camera, whilst some nice editing techniques were used to great effect. The film's aesthetic certainly contributed to its successes in terms of its trashy, pot-boiler feel and Daniels' cinematographic choices were impressive, even if the uneven narrative could have been strengthened.

The whole cast put in good performances, especially Efron, who has a face and a sensibility on screen which was perfectly suited to the film's era. If Efron were to pop up alongside Hoffman in The Graduate, it wouldn't seem strange in the slightest.

The road from the High School Musical franchise has been a fairly uneventful one for Efron although it has taken time for him to settle into his right type of role. The Paperboy could well be a watershed moment for the teen idol and his emotional range is quite impressive.

His character, Jack, is both troubled and conflicted. Lounging around in his underpants and yearning for a female prescence in his life, Jack is enigmatic, temperamental and sensitive and Efron's performance was exceptionally well-judged.

The sexual tension with Kidman may raise a few eyebrows, and the less said about that jellyfish scene, the better. In more general terms, the dynamics between McConaughey and Efron were very believable and the quiet fantasising of Jack was a surreal but competently executed extra layer to a very unusual film.

Totally confused and often startling, The Paperboy is a pulpy, strange and perplexing film of sexual desire, truth and family. In many ways, it's a misjudged picture. But there was something rather intoxicating about the sweat, soft cinematography and dynamic performances. It's not fantastic but it's far from uninteresting. Just don't take your Mum to see it.

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