“The Paperboy”
Ah, the classic Southern Gothic. Let’s see if we have all the ingredients:
Sleepy Southern small town, sometime in the 1950’s (in the remote inland swamps of Florida, not the resort-y beaches on the coasts). Mean, racist, hick sheriff who meets a mysterious comeuppance. Death row inmate (a rough-hewn John Cusack), maybe false accused, but so self-involved it’s hard to get a straight answer out of him. Hometown boy (a laconic, drawling Matthew McConaughey) who’s a reporter for the big-city newspaper, and returns to investigate, but brings along a black colleague (David Oyelowo), who raises local hackles just wearing a tie and acting professional and speaking with a British accent, though he’s not quite as genteel as he would lead you to believe.
Nicole Kidman gets to play the femme fatale, blowsy and crass, throwing around her shopworn sexuality like a free piece of eye candy, but knowing there’s a dark side to her desires, as well. Zac Efron, playing McConaughey’s younger brother, is the moon-eyed innocent, enamored of Kidman despite her seamy side, or maybe because of it. Zac and Matthew’s mother has left, and their alcoholic father has taken up with his latest live-in trophy. The real nurturing around the house came from the maid, marvelously understated by Macy Gray’s portrayal. But not even the substitute Nanny-Momma could prevent all these uninhibited men from making fools of themselves and victims of each other.
And yes, we have the backwoods rednecks, determinedly coarse, with the threat of violence hanging over them like a pall. And it’s steamy out there in more ways than one. But there are still dirty little secrets to be revealed, and unlikely alliances to be formed, and rapaciousness disguised as polite gentility. Everybody drinks too much, curses indiscriminately, says too much about exactly what they’re feeling, generally fail to think before they act, and are just as subject to others’ prejudices as they are imprisoned by their own.
Not that anybody quoted any scripture here—in fact, that’s the one ingredient missing from this self-conscious Southern Gothic throw-down, but this verse comes to mind, anyway:
“They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror…” (Psalm 14: 3-5a).
And so they are.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas