Review: ‘The Paperboy’, Art-House meets Grind-House


When Lee Daniels, Oscar winning director of the critically acclaimed ‘Precious’, releases a follow-up film like ‘The Paperboy’, the bar is set pretty high. However, the exploitation-esque thriller truly stands alone as one of the most raw and intense pieces of cinematic excellence of 2012. The film itself is a menagerie of unforgettable characters, scarring brutality and delicate social commentary; carefully traversing the line between art-house filmmaking and blockbuster action

The film follows the colliding stories of Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack (Zac Efron) Jansen as they investigate the dubious circumstances surrounding the conviction of local ‘redneck’ Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack). Enlisted by Van Wetter’s pen pal turned fiancé Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), Ward and fellow Miami Times reporter Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) set out to exonerate the death row inmate. Recruited as a driver for Ward and his associates, Jack becomes steadily mixed up in the dangerous world of undercover journalism.

Zac Efron gives a truly phenomenal performance as the coming of age ‘heartthrob’ Jack Jansen; from the opening Efron creates a uniquely complex character. A young viral teen desperate to capture his manhood coupled with a gentle childlike idealism, inherent of his broken home. At times his performances are both touchingly tragic and darkly amusing, in keeping with the tone of the film throughout. Equally, Nicole Kidman’s depraved and deeply unhinged portrayal of Charlotte Bless leaves the audience in a state of salacious rapture (the intensity of the fully clothed sex scene will blow your mind). The star however of this film is Cusack’s vulgar monster Van Wetter, who is absolutely terrifying. By the end of the film the tension is literally dripping from the screen.

Visually, the film is stunningly rich, full of depth and colour. Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer reminds us why the age of celluloid is in no way dead. Every scene captures a pastiche of psychedelia and abrasive realism leaving an audience cinematically enamored. Then again what more could you expect from a cinematographer boasting a show reel that includes, ‘Monster’s Ball’, ‘Quantum Of Solace’ and ‘Stranger Than Fiction’?

Daniels’ is a truly unique filmmaker, using an array of directorial styles and techniques to build his own unique narrative. The shots range from ‘jerky’ manual zooms remnant of the Blaxploitation Cinema of the 70’s, to intense ‘Slasher’ montages. However, what is truly genius is the execution of these different styles. Daniels’ integration of these elements is so subtle that they do not harm the films intense dramatic content, and maybe that is its only problem.

The film despite being wildly dark and entertaining, delicately deals with a plethora of social tensions surrounding the American people of the late 60’s. Touching on issues of racism, Europeanism and homosexuality, the film is undeniably rich, but not to everyone’s taste. This film is maybe more suited to the film lover than to a mainstream audience. Although it comes very close to appealing to both, much of the films action involves a close attention to the story. Even if you’re not a film lover, see this anyway; it’s certainly a ride.

Pictures sourced from –

Rating: 9.3

Written by Matthew Iredale


The Verse Staff

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