Of all the movies that start to unspool at the Cannes Film Festival next week, perhaps the biggest question mark for us is “The Paperboy.” Based on the novel by Pete Dexter, it seems to be, on the surface at least, a crime procedural that might make a decent amount of money, but wouldn’t necessarily be the kind of fare that traditionally ends up in the Official Selection at Cannes. The cast is led by a number of actors — Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, Zac Efron — who in recent years have found critical acclaim elusive, along with a lead actress, Nicole Kidman, who’s done great work of late, but also some pretty terrible work too. And director Lee Daniels made his debut with the laughable “Shadowboxer,” and his directorial excesses came close to unbalancing his breakthrough “Precious.”
But then again, all the actors involved have been making more interesting choices of late, and there was enough good in “Precious” to suggest that Daniels could knock it out of the park at some point. And tentatively, that’s been backed up by the first clip from the film, which Rope of Silicon obtained overnight from the Cannes Film Festival site. Showing a prison meeting room confrontation between a Death Row con (Cusack) and the journalist (McConaughey) who’s setting out to clear his name, this glimpse is not setting the world alight, but McConaughey seems to be in the same consistently fine form he’s been in since “The Lincoln Lawyer,” and Cusack seems to be enjoying himself with a drawly Southern accent. Daniels seems to be keeping the camera under control as well, which is a relief.
It’s obviously only a brief clip, and we’re still yet to be convinced that this has the heft to compete with the rest of the Cannes line-up. But it’s a promising enough start for a film we certainly hope to see more of (and given that the clip is labelled #4, we imagine more footage will be revealed in the next few days). “The Paperboy” bows on the Croisette a little under two weeks from now, on Wednesday May 23rd, and we’ll have our verdict on the finished film for you then.