Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"The Paperboy": rather difficult journalism "opportunity" for a young man growing up in the swamp

The Paperboy”, directed by Lee Daniels and based on the 1995 novel by Peter Dexter, seems like “another” southern film noir, evoking moods that remind one of “Body Heat” (maybe even “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte”). 

Most of the time, the story, set in 1969, is told through the eyes of the named protagonist, a “paperboy” and possibly aspiring journalist, Jack Jansen, supposedly around 20, played by HSM’s Zac Efron.  Jack had been a champion high school  and college freshman swimmer, but got thrown out of school.  Since then, he’s been drifting, and he no longer looks as smooth as (say) Ryan Lochte, but is still quite fit.  Part of the problem with following the movie is that, at first, Jack really doesn’t get what is going on when his older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) enlists him to help write a “Pulitzer” story to free a man Van Wetter (John Cusack), now on death row, supposedly wrongly convicted of the murder of a sheriff some years before.  The other reporter is an African American Yardley (David Oyelowo). The movie gets into some muddled discussions of truth and journalistic integrity. 

The film, in fact, opens with a woman telling this little backstory, which (some of it in black and white) is quite graphic.  But then we generally know what Jack knows, and he has to get smarter (and he does) before we can get it.  Jack grows as a young man, and Zac Efron (in real life, a “teacher’s dream” kid populating AP classes in high school as he started his acting career on “Summerland”) seems more convincing playing the character at the end than  as the story starts, where he seems miscast as a kind of angel in hiding.

Jack learns that his wild brother is gay, and tends to get into trouble with his behavior.  Ward, around 40 or so, looks ragged and has BO; he does drugs, his health will soon go (years before HIV); his legs are balding – a bit ironical when you consider the actor’s role in “Magic Mike” (review July 1).  And he may be very wrong about Wetter’s character, which will help set up the film’s climax.  (Cusack looks more haggard than I have ever seen.) Remember, this story takes place about the same time as Frank Sinatra’s antics in “The Detective”.  Stonewall had just happened.  People didn’t know it could get better.

Jack’s own sexuality is interesting.   He can be interested in older, motherly women, like Charlotte (not an accidental name) (Nicole Kidman), who had tried to fall in love with Wetter while he was in prison.  And toward the end, we get the idea that he would like closeness with men, too; if only his own brother had been a better role model.

There’s a sequence, in the “middle”, where Jack is attacked by a jellyfish while swimming. (At least it's not the Australian box jellyfish or chironex, a cubazoan.)  He gets better perfectly when Charlotte plays an old cat trick (golden shower) to neutralize the venom and keep him out of shock.  He quickly recovers.  But that sets up the climax, where Jack’s ability to swim underwater in a swamp set up the conclusion.

The film was shot in the lower swamps of  Louisiana, even if set in Moat County, FL (the county doesn’t exist).  The swamp scenery is quite striking, and is augmented by animals and props like the innards of alligators.

The official site (from Millennium Films) is here

I wondered how this fictitious case would come across if reported in "Datelline" investigative style.  At least we'd get to the facts sooner. 
I saw the film at the new Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA., on a flat screen. The theater crops vertically only slightly for the 2.35:1 aspect, and can enlarge the width slightly at the same time. 

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