By Shirrel Rhoades
Before Pete Dexter was a celebrated novelist, he was a newspaperman. He worked at such papers as The Sacramento Bee, Philadelphia Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post. His syndicated columns were collected into a book called “Paper Trails” and his “Paris Trout” won a National Book Award.
So why should anyone be surprised that he’d write a novel called “The Paperboy.” It won a PEN Center Literary Award.
“The Paperboy” has been turned into a hard-hitting movie of the same name, directed by Lee Daniels (“Precious,” “Monster’s Ball”). It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Like the book, it’s the story of a couple of news guys from a Miami paper out to win a Pulitzer Prize at any cost.
Matthew McConaughey stars as an ambitious reporter named Ward Jansen. Jansen along with his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) and a colleague named Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) set out to free a man on death row. Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was convicted of murdering a shady lawman and many supporters, including a sexy jailhouse groupie named Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), believe Wetter to be innocent.
How far will Ward Jansen go to win his Pulitzer? And at what cost to others? That’s the nub of this thought-provoking film.
Some blog sites like /Film have declared this “The Year of Matthew McConaughey.” We’ve seen him recently in “Magic Mike” and “Killer Joe.” The one-time star of “Failure to Launch” has certainly overcome that trait, earning high marks for his appearance in this lurid Southern Gothic tale.
Even more than McConaughey’s acting turn, you will want to check out Nicole Kidman, almost unrecognizable as the loud, trashy girlfriend of the accused killer. Her transformation from the elegant actress we know so well to this toxic lowlife is amazing, an applause-worthy performance.
Director Lee Daniels says, “What I loved about that film is they were all lost, little, fragile birds, with several of whom on a death wish. I think Nicole Kidman‘s character and Matthew McConaughey‘s character had death wishes. I mean, wow, what interesting people, huh?”
Some critics have loved “The Paperboy” while others have hated it. “An unmitigated disaster” said the AV Club’s Mike D’Angelo. But the Atlantic’s Jon French called it “pulpy, sweaty, outrageously entertaining.”
Film blogger Angle Han opines, “’The Paperboy’ seems worth checking out for the performances alone.” I agree.
Daniels shrugs. “I think you will love it or hate it. There’s no grey area. You’ll either understand the world I created and go for it, or you’ll resist and say, “What the (blank)?”
Pete Dexter who wrote the screenplay based on his book didn’t like the film. “Everything would be all right if I’d had a chance to take my name off that screenplay credit,” he says. “Essentially, it’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been associated with.”
Lee Daniels doesn’t care. “Look, my own mother doesn’t like my movies. I’m okay with it, because you’re entitled to your own opinion.”
Dexter got his wish. The film’s credits now attribute the screenplay to Lee Daniels. “I never try to make a film for the masses,’ Daniels says. “I just try to tell my story.”