The Paperboy (USA, 2012)

Directed by: Lee Daniels. From the director’s first effort, the critically lukewarm Shadowboxer, to the almost universally adored (and Oprah endorsed) Precious, Daniels is making a name for himself in a field with many names. Without going into a long discussion about film noir, it’s possible that this particular genre above all others has been most mercilessly fetishized in recent years, its component parts picked apart and reassembled out of context for their perceived aesthetic “cool” value. Keeping this in mind, The Paperboy is certainly one of the most thoughtful films to do this, making a careful and deliberate use of the markers of film noir to craft a world and a mood, to actually say something with that noir language, rather than just yelling for the sake of it. Not to shit talk, but this is almost the exact opposite of Sin City (which was shit). The Paperboy is not set in some mythical 1940’s New York, but explicitly in the racially-contentious 60’s South of our more-or-less “real world”. This isn’t a message movie, though. The South, civil rights, etc—even the actual plot about the murder of a sheriff and the possible innocence of the death row inmate accused of it—all of that is just window dressing, which is pretty interesting. The noir stuff is the frame around which the story about loss of innocence, first romance, youthful lust, etc, is played out. Zac Efron steps into his big-boy pants in this movie (even though he spends most of the film in his tightie whities), and he does a great job playing at being completely in love with Nicole Kidman’s trailer-trash older woman. Not that he had to pretend, I’m sure: she’s absolutely smouldering in her sexuality in this movie. I’ve been a fan for a while, but she really is incredible in this movie. In addition to it being a really compelling, mature, sensual coming-of-age neo-neo-noir, The Paperboy is also really a film nerd’s film. I love how briefly and realistically Daniels treats his exposition. Pointed, step-for-step, unrealistic expository dialogue is like torture for me, so it was great to have this mumbled, overlapping, almost rushed expository dialogue in this film. It was almost difficult to catch, but I’d rather that than the opposite. I also really liked his editing, that straightforward, hidden editing style for most of it made the occasional hallucinatory, subjective, dream sequence—hazy cross fades, etc—really effective. What really got the film nerd in me was near the end, during a sex scene—perhaps the most torrid, primal sex scene I’ve seen since Monster’s Ball (which Daniels produced)—when suddenly, out of nowhere, the camera cuts to a shot of a crocodile’s head perched just above the surface of the swamp surrounding them, and then a shot of an animal ( a boar?), mutilated beyond recognition, then suddenly back to the house where the violent sex is happening. Sitting in my theater seat, I almost yelled out: “Is that a non-diegetic insert????” Yes, it was. The only other one of those I ever remember seeing is in Film Studies 101 class, when they showed us Nicholas Roeg’s landmark Walkabout, perhaps only just to show us the rare editing technique. Come to think of it, perhaps Daniels is specifically invoking that film with the non-diegetic cuts, trying to state something about the interaction of civilization with primal nature and human nature? Either way, it works here, and passes completely undetected by the majority of the audience, I’m sure. The only criticism I could think of was perhaps that the voice-over narrative by Macy Gray was a bit much. If it’s supposed to conjure the detective pulp of Chandler and Hammett, it definitely works, but even to this end, the general rule that the voice-over is a lazy and obvious way of telling a film story perhaps applies to this film, at least to some extent. But Macy does a pretty good job of it, and who knows—maybe this is the start of a promising film career for her (not counting her momentary and unnecessary role as herself in Spider-Man). I usually wouldn’t write this much on a movie like this—it didn’t particularly strike me that much, but I saw it for a review in a proper publication, and I had too many things to write for that one, so this was my overflow. Go see this movie, just don’t see it with your grandparents or anything.

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4 responses to “The Paperboy (USA, 2012)

  1. Pingback: Prisoners (USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Lucy (France, 2014) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Dirty Grandpa (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

  4. Pingback: Love and Mercy (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

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