The Paperboy - Blu-ray Review

'So much of the good work though is lost under Daniels' near-incompetent narrative and tonal grasp.'

Much-maligned by all and sundry, the problem with The Paperboy is not that it has nothing, it is that it has everything and no idea whatsoever how to handle it.

Lee Daniels' out-of-control film zig-zags between ideas, tropes, themes and characters, stopping to pay them lip service or, at times, even less. Its barrage of ideas becomes mind-numbing from very early on, as we, and Daniels, spiral into a film at times hedonistic, depressing, spent and vibrant.

The danger is that that very description makes The Paperboy out to be exciting, new and filled with interesting things. It is not. The effect is more like being lost in a rioting crowd of rainbow-clad protesters, pushed this way and that as they heave and surge forwards, shouting random lines in your ear-holes. It's disorientating, claustrophobic, nauseous and nearly always unpleasant.

The few times when Daniels' film manages to not be all of those things, it reveals that it could have once been a quite tight little judicial mystery, with a retained dark heart. The eventual reveals surrounding Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley (David Oyelowo) present interesting ideas around identity, in a film pitched around the fact that the protagonist (Zac Efron) is searching for his own. That film is an interesting little piece, surrounded by the steamy Floridian swamps where John Cusack's reptilian bad-man eventually lurks, freed by people who love justice but hate him.

So much of the good work though is lost under Daniels' near-incompetent narrative and tonal grasp. The sexy air that comes with the steam is played on and played on until it feels revolting to have to see another shot of Efron is his underwear or Nicole Kidman in a negligée. Narrator Macy Gray (a surprising highlight) doesn't make matters any clearer, becoming by turns omnipotent, incompetent; hazy or pin-sharp clear. It's eventually hardly a surprise when she breaks the fourth wall, for no other reason than the fact that the film has almost every other tactic up its sleeve, so why not that one.

The choppiness of tone extends to the visual execution and a switch which is quickly becoming modern cinema's most alienating: that between steady and shaky cameras. If Daniels wanted to keep us on uncertain footing, never knowing which way we were going to lurch, there were less queasy ways of doing so.

Finally he arrives at a conclusion which at least has the good grace to provide some welcome darkness to all of the insubstantial fluff that went before but like a character who races to the on-screen rescue, he is too late and we have sunk beneath waves and waves of very murky storytelling indeed.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.


  1. I liked The Paperboy, but Zac Efron as the lead was a huge mistake. I felt like he really couldn't handle the subject matter. Cusak was such a creep, though.

    1. Agree with that. Liked Efron in Me And Orson Welles but that had some lightness to it, which suited him, whereas this has none. And yes, Cusack is clammily horrible.

  2. Good review Sam. Very weird movie, but also a very fun one because the cast is really going nuts with this material, and having a ball with it. Especially Cusack, who hasn't ever been slummier.

    1. Thanks Dan! Love Cusack and he is great in this but the whole thing just seems really unsure of what it wants to do. The book is great apparently. Wish I'd read it before seeing this.