At a moment when so much is being made of Quentin Tarantino's incursion into politically incorrect trashploitation with Django Unchained, it's surprising how little is being made of the "real thing" so breathlessly recreated by Lee Daniels in The Paperboy. True, Mr. Daniels didn't set out to deliver the trash monument the film ended up as; it's more a case of ending up in an entirely different place than expected - but that shouldn't undermine the fearlessness with which the director of Precious - Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire dives headfirst into the gloriously sweaty and dirty pleasures of Pete Dexter's Southern Gothic noir about crime and race in the Florida swamps at the end of the 1960s.

     Taste, tone and subtlety are not and have never been Mr. Daniels' fortes, since he trades in a rampant energy borne out of a bloody-minded conviction about having things to say and needing to tell them his way. What he wants to say with The Paperboy, though, is anyone's guess: it could be a long-winded meditation on the racial and social make-up of the American South wrapped up in all the age-old stereotypes (the noble black, the white trash slut, the crusading journalist, the admiring teenager), but that is hardly supported by the central plot: local-boy-made-good reporter Matthew McConaughey returns home to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice over the murder of the local sheriff, and gets sucked into more than he bargained for. The utter guilelessness with which Mr. Daniels overlooks the essential disconnect between the actual narrative he is telling and the racial and sexual subtexts he makes overtly visible throughout, the outrageously convoluted plot disregarded for the sake of bravura performances by an A-list cast engagingly slumming it with gusto, turn The Paperboy into a madly entertaining trash-fest, so lurid and overwrought you cannot help but admire the earnestness with which all involved dedicate themselves to this folly.

     The Paperboy seems to have sprung fully-formed from the seedier side of 1970s film-making, traveled through time to land in 2012. Without any pretension of post-modern comment, artistic irony or even satire, it's a gloriously messy, utterly riveting piece of honest-to-goodness old-fashioned schlock, expertly and professionally presented with a wondrous feel for location and casting. It features engagingly winning, all-or-nothing performances from Mr. McConaughey and Nicole Kidman as the tarty woman whose walk on the wild side starts the ball rolling. So weird and misguided it demands to be seen, but a heartfelt throwback to 1970s exploitation films like nobody has been able to do since their heyday, The Paperboy is definitely one of the most entertaining two hours you'll spend in a theatre these days.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman, Scott Glenn

Director: Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Pete Dexter, Mr. Daniels, from the novel by Mr. Dexter, The Paperboy 
Cinematography: Roberto Schaefer  (colour, processing by Technicolor, widescreen)
Music: Mario Grigorov
Designer: Daniel T. Dorrance
Costumes: Caroline Eselin-Schaefer
Editor: Joe Klotz
Producers: Hilary Shor, Mr. Daniels, Avi Lerner, Ed Cathell III, Cassian Elwes (Nu Image, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Paperboy Productions)
USA, 2012, 107 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), December 17th 2012


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