Thursday, January 3, 2013
The Paperboy 
Roger Ebert's review
The Onion/AV Club's review
The Paperboy (directed and screenplay cowritten by Lee Daniels along with Peter Dexter [IMDb] on whose novel the film is based) is another "indie/art house" film that only passed briefly in Chicago (in November) to mixed reviews (see above) but was nevertheless reprised by the Gene Siskel Film Center at the end of the year (2012) no doubt to underline some of the film's IMHO remarkable performances. All three of the films reprised this week at the Center -- the other two being A Late Quartet  and Searching for Sugar Man  -- IMHO certainly deserved the attention/second look as the film industry enters into "awards season").
The Paperboy is a hard-boiled / pot-boiling story set largely around a family operating a small newspaper in rural Florida in 1969 (before the widespread availability of air conditioning...) and is being recalled to a reporter in the present day by Anita Chester (played by Macy Gray) who served as the family's African-American maid in those days.
The family was headed by the newspaper's owner, lifelong rural Florida resident, W.W. Jansen (played by Scott Glenn) and his "New York transplant" second wife Ellen Guthrie (played by Nealla Gordon) who he met in some convention somewhere. W.W. had two largely grown sons from his first marriage. The older son named Ward (played by Matthew McConaughey) has followed in his family's footsteps (even if he left town to do so) becoming a fairly successful investigative reporter for a fairly major newspaper in Miami (the "Miami Times"). On the other hand at the beginning of the story, the younger more listless son named Jack (played by Zac Efron), still harboring a resentment against his parents over the breakup of their marriage, had just returned to his father's home after being thrown out of Florida State University for some unspecified offense, having blown, among other things, his chance to become a top-ranked competitive swimmer. Upon returning home, Jack's father gave him a menial job at his newspaper of simply helping to deliver/distribute his papers each day (if in a truck) as a glorified "paperboy," giving the film its name.
So much for the set-up of the lead family's dynamics. Things begin to get interesting when Ward comes up from Miami with his oddly English-accented black colleague named Yardley (played by David Oyelowo) on a job to investigate the circumstances of a notorious murder of a local (and by all accounts corrupt) sheriff Thurmond Call. A white-trashy swamper named Hillary Van Wetter (played by John Cusack) was sitting on death row for the crime. There was always some question, however, whether he actually committed it as the evidence was somewhat circumstantial (The sheriff's innards were gutted in the same way as a swamper would gut an alligator ...). Ward and Yardley were up in Ward's hometown to see if they could shed some new light on the case before Hillary "got the chair ..."
The two's investigation leads them to Charlotte Bless (played by Nicole Kidman) a big haired, perpetually tight clothes wearing woman who's both certainly "been around" and is now probably too old for the big hair and tight clothes. She had been corresponding with a fair number of prisoners in her day, but has decided to give her heart to Hillary. She's "in love ..." and even though their relationship has been only through correspondance and he's, well ON DEATH ROW, they're "engaged to be married." Yippee! Charlotte shows up at Ward and Yardley's "office" (in Jack and Ward's father's home's garage ...) with a fair number of rather large boxes containing a truly exhaustive compilation of everything that's been written about Hillary's case as well as "all the intimate correspondance" that she's shared with Hillary since the two struck-up their prison romance ...
The result is ... the younger, listless son Jack, living back home in his father's house (who he hates) without a plan or a clue ... falls in love with ... you guessed it ... Charlotte ;-). Much ensues ...
To get into more detail would honestly diminish the story. However, it is perhaps telling/poignant that Jack, who could have become an Olympic class swimmer ("if only he had applied himself...") finds himself near the end of the story swimming for his life in an alligator infested swamp somewhere in the outback of Florida. And it does seem to me that he does come to understand at that moment how he got there ...
So arguably, "the Paperboy" ... "grows up." But wow, what a trip...
Parents, needless to say, keep the minors at home regarding this one. The film is definitely justifiably R-rated. However, for adult kids who despite being in their 20s or 30s don't seem to be growing up, this may not be a bad film to see. And I do understand why the Gene Siskel Film Center wanted to reprise this film as "award season begins." Even if the film is intended for adults, the performances are great and it tells one heck of a story.
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