Set in hot, humid Florida of the late 60s The Paperboy is a surprisingly atmospheric film. When big time reporter Ward Jensen (Matthew McConaughey) comes home to investigate the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) it is the beginning of a whole series of events.
Hillary is about to be executed for killing a cop, but Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a letter-writing, bottle-blonde with the hots for death row inmates, thinks he is innocent and asks Ward to look into the matter. Ward’s bother and college dropout Jack (Zac Efron) finds a new purpose in life when he falls in love with bombshell Charlotte, even though she is nearly twice his age.
As Ward and his co-writer Yardley (David Oyelowo) become more and more involved in unraveling the truth behind Hillary’s incarceration, Jack becomes more and more obsessed with Charlotte. Secrets are revealed and fantasies brought to life in a sticky, sexy southern way.
Surprisingly Kidman brings a lot of sex appeal to the role of Charlotte, displaying a near pornographic aggressiveness. And Cusack as Hillary is the perfect opposite to seductress Charlotte. He is creepy and crude, manipulative and possessive and there is always a surge of violence lurking below the surface.
McConaughey embodies the slightly greasy Ward with his usual blend of charm and sleaze, however there is more depth to the character, which he slowly excavates as the plot thickens. Another pleasant surprise is Efron as Jack. Although he is outshone by Kidman, Cusack and McConaughey, Efron does hold his own and his ‘graduate-like’ struggle is believable and quite endearing.
As the whole story is narrated by Macy Gray as the sassy, omniscient housekeeper Anita, her unique voice injects “The Paperboy” with it’s own flair. But director Lee Daniels does struggle to give the film a consistent flow and the narrative is often choppy. Maybe this is because the topic is so unsettling, the mixture of sex, violence and racism always unbalancing the plot. However what the narrative and storytelling lack the strong acting makes up for, overall a good film but not one for sensitive stomachs.