The Paper Boy **½/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli

February 28, 2013 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Whatever else it may be cited for, The Paperboy, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, is not going be called “the feel-good movie of 2012.”

An unsettling period piece mystery (the period being the late 1960s), The Paperboy is steeped in the so-called “Southern Gothic” milieu. The irony of the resolution will not be lost on viewers but the movie as a whole is a rather grim, dismal experience where the elements never quite gel. There are some splendidly over-the-top performances – chiefly those of Nicole Kidman and John Cusack, both cast against type – but the biggest narrative hole lies at the center. The lead character, played by Zac Efron, is dull, uninteresting, and poorly conceived. His sole purpose seems to be to provide a relatively normal, somewhat likable entity in a sea of damaged and depraved individuals who are defined primarily by their secrets and fetishes. The ending is bleak, but not much more so than the 100-odd minutes leading up to it.

The reason to see the film is more the performances than the story, which is haphazardly told. Kidman is fantastic, oozing a primal sexuality that is so unexpected it’s all the more mesmerizing. Her Charlotte is a creature of base urges and unfiltered desires yet, underneath everything, there’s something touchingly vulnerable about her. Kidman brings all this, and more, to the screen. Playing opposite her in the movie’s most creepy, compelling scene is John Cusack in the kind of role he has never before attempted: a vile, irredeemable monster. One could argue that Cusack’s most recognizable trait as an actor is his likability. We relate to him. For him to essay a character like this forces him to submerge that aspect of his personality, and he accomplishes it with frightening success.

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