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The Paperboy is a 2012 American thriller film starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, and Nicole Kidman. Directed by Lee Daniels, it is based on the 1995 novel The Paperboy by American author Pete Dexter.
The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
An idealistic reporter and his brother, Ward Jansen and Jack Jensen, investigate the events surrounding a murder in an effort to exonerate a man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter. Van Wetter has been jailed for the murder of an unscrupulous local sheriff, Thurmond Call. Call had previously stomped Van Wetter's handcuffed cousin to death. Van Wetter is now on death row and awaiting execution. The Jansens are helped by Ward's colleague, Englishman Yardley Acheman, and Charlotte Bless, a woman whom Van Wetter has never met but who has fallen in love with him and is determined that he should be released and that they should marry. In prison Van Wetter consistently receives correspondence from her.
Charlotte tries to prove Van Wetter's innocence by requesting the help of Ward and Yardley, who are both investigative reporters from the Miami Times and are hungry for a salacious story. Ward returns to his hometown to investigate the case but has mixed feelings about returning home to his estranged father, and his father's new girlfriend, Nancy, who distribute the Miami Times in their town. The Jansen brothers dislike their father's new girlfriend. Jack is the paperboy after having been expelled from college for vandalism. His only real friend is his maid, Anita.
The evidence against Van Wetter is inconsistent and the writers are confident that if they can expose Van Wetter as a victim of redneck justice then their story will benefit them greatly. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte who only desires Van Wetter. Anita realizes that Jack can never stop thinking of Charlotte as she is his first love. One day, with some information from Van Wetter, the Jansens travel to the swamp to meet Van Wetter's uncle, Tyree, who has evidence that Van Wetter did not commit the crime.
Ward is revealed to be a closeted homosexual when he approaches a pair of sadistic men, who rape and torture him. During Ward's time in the hospital, Yardley prints the news article despite not getting all the facts right. Jack tries to convince Yardley to stop, but instead discovers that Yardley is actually American, having pretended to be English because local black men could not be successful unless they lied about their backgrounds. Yardley had also given Ward sexual favors in return for position in the paper.
Van Wetter is eventually released from prison and takes Charlotte away to the swamp to live with him. She is unhappy and sends a letter to Jack telling how much she hates her new life. During their father's wedding, a recently recovered Ward and Jack go to save Charlotte. However, the escape plan is flawed and Charlotte and Ward are killed by Van Wetter, who is then arrested for their murder and executed on the electric chair as planned originally. Towards the end of the story, Anita reveals that Jack never forgot his first love.
Early reactions to The Paperboy have been mixed with some critics comparing it to Lee Daniels' directorial debut, Shadowboxer. Most praise has been for Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Charlotte Bless: Peter Bradshaw said, "Nicole Kidman really is terrifically good as Charlotte: funny, sexy, poignantly vulnerable". Chris Haydon of Filmoria stated, "Would I recommend you to see The Paperboy? Yes, probably, simply because Kidman needs to be witnessed and noticed for this work. Will it win at Cannes? Absolutely not." And Mary Corliss wrote, "The revelation, however, is Kidman’s performance. Renouncing the goddess image she has so frequently assumed, her Charlotte is a ripe, feral creature, working all her sexual wiles just for exercise. With a risky mixture of precision and abandon, Kidman splendidly creates a vision of Southern womanhood at its most toxic It won’t happen, but she deserves the Best Actress prize at this year's Cannes". Sophia Pande of Nepali Times wrote, "The Paperboy may not be to your taste. It is often over the top and very violent, but this is Lee Daniel’s style. It is this very style backed by intelligence, undeniable directorial skill, and an intimate knowledge of his deeply flawed but very human characters that make for such a compelling film."
As of December 12, 2012, Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "rotten" rating of 40%, with 45 positive reviews out of 112. The consensus states: "Trashy and melodramatic, The Paperboy is enlivened by a strong cast and a steamy, sordid plot, but it's uneven and often veers into camp." The staff of the The A.V. Club named it the worst film of 2012. The New Yorker movie critic Michael Schulman called the movie "deliriously tawdry and nonsensical".
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