Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Here is "The Paperboy", the latest effort by Lee Daniels who directed the earthy and very affecting "Precious", which was deservedly the Indie hit of 2009. In this outing, Daniels, strives to capture the essence of The Southern Gothic with an adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel. The cinematography is as immediate and visceral as the previous "Precious". It has a prismatic sense of direction, complete with a few Saul Bass style titles and DePalma-era split screens with some startling images, including eviscerated alligators and mealy-mouthed killers running about on swamp-seeped legs. All this set in the 1960s where racism was at a sickening peak but also thankfully, near its last gasp in the Mainstream. This is presented with virtuosic fade-ins, double images and overexposures that give an eccentric and jarring flavor, the visual roux that is unique to Daniels. In watching the film, we are both part of history and removed from it, at an isolated distance, given that the images are grainy as in a 1970s exploitation flick.
Now for the story.
Baby Blue Dreamboat Zac Efron (I'm not kidding, but I wish I was) plays Jack. Jack tags along with Ward, his amphibious-looking older brother played by Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey who has a trademark with such shifty Southern roles is just not all that interesting or inspired here. If you are familiar with his roster you may already predict what smarmy things might come from his twice scarred mouth. Ward is a journalist but more often than not , he drunkenly sways and caterwauls about some article. He flirts and cajoles and does neither very well. Ward is trying to get a killer out of jail, striving to get at the truth, but his role is too thin. Then "The Bombshell" Charlotte enters (Nicole Kidman). She is tall, chromium and Barbie-infused. Charlotte is in love with the killer but God knows why. He certainly is a smooth talker. Kidman does do her best with the role,but her character is so shallow, I admit I didn't care. Invariably , she pouts and preens with little sense of growth or development.
And although Macy Gray as the street smart- maid, gives a bit of gusto with her quick and facile one-liners, she infuses her role with such an overdone narcotic aura and slurred speech (whether intentional or not) that she loses impact and turns annoying.
The melodrama is so over-the-top that I found it little more than an arty creep-show, ala Stephen King. John Cusack plays Hillary, a really dumb psycho with a face like a pizza who just might have one of the most unconvincing roles of the year. And McConaughey has a fate straight out of "Deliverance" or a Sam Peckinpah film.
The racial tension scenes together with the romantic frustrations of Jack could have been compelling, but the film is way too pulp, too fast. The swamp episodes alone make it into a "Cape Fear" /"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" hybrid that lacks power. Is there really a need to see Charlotte pee on Jack, or Ward beaten into feta cheese and trussed up like a pig? Cusack's character was so repulsive as to seem ridiculous and I couldn't suspend my disbelief, a vital quality for engagement within a story.
The entire film turned a brown shade of depression and all at once, it felt too sour on a sudden moment, vinegar-gone in its viciousness with no trace of humor to lighten its coarse camp load. I wonder. Is "The Paperboy" a conceptual exercise with its 70s Drive-In presentation? I do not know. All I can tell you is that the camera's artful dodges lead to seedy stuff and none of it all that inspired or provocative by film's end.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org