Sultry thriller scoops the dirt

Nanjing Night Net

General Release


Towards the end of The Paperboy, Nicole Kidman – in superb form as Southern white trash – says: ”I wanna go live in the swamp.” Hell, yeah! This whole movie is a swamp – a seething, messy murder investigation infused with the sweaty smell of bodies and driven by a casual force that is seductively unstable, darkly funny and strangely exhilarating.

Based on a novel by Pete Dexter, director Lee Daniels (best known for the Academy Award-winning Precious) pulls in a top shelf cast and helps them get down and dirty. Set in 1960s Florida, the film opens with the murder of a racist policeman, a brutal crime that puts the very nasty Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) behind bars. Believing it to be a miscarriage of justice, journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his black colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) descend on the steamy town to scoop the dirt. Driven around by Ward’s lovesick younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), the paperboys are joined by Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a fortysomething sex-bomb who’s become erotically infatuated with Van Wetter – even though they’ve never met. Charlotte, like the Florida weather, manages to get everyone hot and steamy, pushing Jack to the limits of desire. And when the dysfunctional team aren’t on the case – which seems to be much of the time – they’re found at the Jansen family home where long-suffering servant Anita (Macy Gray), manages their self-indulgent antics with spectacular finesse.

The film premiered at Cannes nearly a year ago and has had a troubled time getting around the big screen. Easily misunderstood, it’s best viewed as high-grunge parody, a rambling and visceral examination of small-town racism, corruption, sex and inbreeding. If it’s a logical police procedural you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong swamp.

The cast are uniformly superb, with Kidman doing her best work since Gus van Sant directed her in To Die For and Cusack scarily puffed up and slimey like one of the ‘gators his family kill for a living. Efron and Gray play out one of the most touching non-romances ever seen on screen and McConaughey oozes self-satisfied control. The film’s aesthetic is blown out inelegance, colours faded as if by the Florida sun; the editing is sometimes as random as the obsessive characters who wander through this world.

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