Where do I start? Perhaps I should begin by confessing that I love a bit of sleaze, think The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Blue Velvet or Tarantino at his exploitative best in Jackie Brown. The trailer for The Paperboy, the story of a group of journalists and their involvement in a death row appeal case, caught my eye for many reasons including:
- A setting and era that appeals to me – 1960s Southern America.
- A cast full of actors whom I enjoy – Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, and my new guilty pleasure Zac Efron.
- More than a little hint of the sort of sleazy set pieces that said actors were going to be involved in. Judge if you will, but at the end of the day, aren’t we all voyeurs?
On the subject of my last bullet point the film did not disappoint. In 107 minutes of stifling Florida heat the antics of the dysfunctional group of misfits included public masturbation, gay gang rape, hints at incestuous procreation, and I honestly never thought I’d witness Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron’s face, but I did, by jove I did. The cinematography captured the intense heat of a Southern summer so vividly that any character not drenched in sweat looked completely out of place, and made me feel as though I were in a sauna myself. The graphic nature of the film was not limited to its sexual content, with many moments of violence and gore that any Tarantino fan would be proud of, there was an aligator gutting scene so detailed that if you now handed me a machete I think I’d have those innards clean and free in no time at all. The grainy choice of camera work and shaky footage all add to the sense that what you are watching is something very risque and unpolished, almost not allowed, and do you know what? I loved it.
I loved everything about it, all the performances were stellar, even Kidman who at times can be as boring to watch as a game of croquet. The real stars of the show for me were Matthew McConaughey (who would have thought he can actually act, in a proper film, without a poster that shows him suavely leaning on Kate Hudson or the like?), Zac Efron and John Cusack. Though Cusack, playing death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, has less screen time than the rest, he is a haunting presence and put me in mind of Hannibal Lecter every time he was on the screen. Efron’s character has the most emotional work to do, the film is broadly his coming of age story and there are subplots alluding to racism, abandonment and first love that he manages to encompass and deal with gracefully.
So overall The Paperboy gets a 4 out of 5 from me. It’s not the greatest film ever made, nowhere close, but it’s not trying to be. It’s sticky, sexy, sweaty and vulgar, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Although I’m sure this says more about me as a person than about the quality of the film.