[Editor's Note: Poster Lab is your weekly dose of movie poster dissection, wherein the House examines the pluses, minuses, and in-betweens of the poster design(s) for a buzzworthy film.]
When Nicolas Winding Refn was doing the early rounds for Drive, he said he chose pink for the film's opening titles—and, subsequently, poster font—because the color is so feminine it can transcend masculinity. With their first poster for The Paperboy, another stylish film to feature heartthrob-steered cars, the gang at Millenium Entertainment would appear to be following Refn's lead, conveying a fiery manliness that's awash in rose and coral hues. The faded red of the car door, Nicole Kidman's vibrant top, the muted sandy border, and Zac Efron's glistening sun tan come together to form a sexy, rugged monochrome evocative of old photographs and '70s cinema.
Designed by ...and company, who also brought you that Russian-doll one-sheet for Cold Souls, The Paperboy's poster is a rule-breaking beauty, its placement of actors as off-kilter as its fleshy, more-than-macho color scheme. Faces—and, certainly, facial expressions—are expertly, tellingly situated in a cool balance of glamour and plot suggestion, and long-established stars are eclipsed by one whose James Dean mug and aphrodisiac arm can sell this baby while fully serving the design.
If I'm not mistaken, the star of this film isn't Efron, but Matthew McConaughey, whose morally troubled Florida journo, Ward, stands in the poster's background, out of focus. Efron is Ward's brother, Jack, who winds up serving as Ward's driver amid a seedy investigation surrounding a shifty death row inmate (John Cusack). McConaughey can easily carry a film ad on his own, but here, he's shrewdly and symbolically relegated to the rear as a fading lead. Odds are this is less an acknowledgment of Jack's probable emergence as the true protagonist, or even of Efron's stance as a new in-demand It Hunk, than of the actor's sheer aesthetic appropriateness. Anyone who sat through Charlie St. Cloud can attest that Efron is a classic, knee-buckling dreamboat, and his contribution to this image is iconic and invaluable. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume the poster had intensive input from director Lee Daniels and producer Pedro Almodóvar, two gay, texture-driven filmmakers who surely have intimate acquaintance with the visual effectiveness of a pretty boy's shirt sleeve precisely hugging his sinewy, sunlit bicep. Efron's uncertain stare, emitted from a head of brushed-back locks and subtle scruff, recalls an archive of handsome idols.
The remaining elements, namely Nicole Kidman's supposed femme fatale and Cusack's loose canon, are nearly as compelling. Seeing Kidman's crook-loving Charlotte stare intently at Efron's impressionable Jack implies more than a salacious cougar scenario; it's an art-imitates-life reflection of a veteran A-List goddess admiring and supporting the new blood (for me, it's thus a kind of transmuted reproduction of Julianne Moore's Amber Waves lustfully championing Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler). In regard to Cusack, this one well-positioned sliver of his nose, cheek, and angered eyes is the most promising and enticing image to be associated with the actor in years (and no, that's not discounting anything to do with The Raven, which, come on, looks awful). Say what you will about Precious, its miserablist excess, and its bogusly hopeful finale, but Daniels has a definite knack for both creative casting and drawing out acting greatness, and that he's behind Cusack's actions in this rare tease of a still makes it all the more encouraging.
What this poster truly exudes, be it through Cusack's against-type glare, Kidman's cradle-robbing smirk, Efron's potent good looks, or that whole sweltering, salmon tint, is heat.