The Paperboy is based on a thriller written by Pelter Dexter. In the film, Nicole Kidman plays the sultry and stunningly alluring Charlotte Bless, a prostitute who has fallen in love with a local inmate named Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) who is imprisoned for the murder of a Police officer.
Sensing injustice and wrongful imprisonment, two journalists arrive in town to investigate the original murder charge filed against Hillary. Ward James (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) systematically go through all the evidence, and try to pick apart the prosecution’s case. Yardley also calls upon the services of his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), who is deployed as chauffeur and aid, and who immediately becomes infatuated and lustfully drawn to Charlotte. This can only lead to disastrous consequences as Charlotte is insistent that she wishes to spend the rest of her days by Hillary’s side upon release.
Over its entirety, the film maintains a steady level of suspense and intrigue towards Hillary’s character. Cusack plays the role of a cold and unhinged sociopath wonderfully and the iciness can really be felt from behind his eyes. The character however seems so guilty throughout the film and it is never entirely clear why so many people are intent on proving his innocence.
Making things even more confusing is frequent gaps in the film, that leave much to the imagination. We watch as Ward gets increasingly and unrealistically obsessed with the case at a very early stage but we never see just how everyone and everything has come together in the first place.
Alongside Cusack’s portrayal is a truly sexy and tantalizing performance from Kidman who shows she stills has the looks, figure, and more importantly sassy attitude, to fit in with today’s young stars. That being said, the connection between Charlotte and Jack never quite seems real, and as passable as Efron’s on screen persuasion is, his character seems a little wooden and safe. McConaughey’s performance is as equally uninspiring. For me, he is Mr. Dependable in a role which requires little eccentricity or fluidity and I think he was miscast in the film.
I should also mention that there a couple of scenes which director Lee Daniels seems to have included in order to give the film a shock factor, and cast an aura of bewilderment on the audience. I won’t give these away during the review, but it won’t be hard to tell which scenes I am referring to when you watch the film. Unfortunately, they do seem a little out of place and don’t hold any real basis for progressing the story.
There is also a comparative feeling of being left in the lurch as the whole viewing draws to a close and we are almost mislead into expecting a predictable end. While delivering unpredictability is a useful cinematic tool when used correctly, in this instance it fails to enhance the experience and only serves to deliver a reaction of disappointment.
Ultimately, The Paperboy is a poorly made film with not a whole lot going for it. The story is intriguing at first but quickly becomes messy. Daniels’ direction is often misguided and the film is nowhere near as good as his last film, Precious. It’s messy and often ridiculous and a lot of the narratives just seem to end rather abruptly, a lot of things feel unfinished as the credits roll. Daniels is all over the place with this one and unfortunately, I don’t see it finding much of an audience.