Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo
Watch online: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes
Sweat. That’s the first thing you notice about The Paperboy. The sweat. The frame is saturated in it. If perspiration were an internationally recognized currency, The Paperboy would be a slippery Fort Knox. It’s sweatier than Magic Mike spending a sunny afternoon in a sauna with fat Val Kilmer.
Somewhere in the glistening pile of damp pink flesh lies a plot. Or so we’re meant to believe. Years from now, our children will spot the DVD in the living room (or sign into our Netflix account) and say: “What was this film about?” “Well,” we’ll begin, and then trail off into incoherent mumblings about alligators, jellyfish and Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron.
It’s impossible to sum up The Paperboy in a sentence, because it’s hard to know what it is – at times, the film doesn’t even seem to know itself. The tale of young journalist Jack (Efron) and his older brother Ward (McConaughey) investigating an innocent man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack), they find themselves entangled with Charlotte Bless (Kidman) and, erm, alligators and mumble mumble jellyfish something something something Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron.
But while the plot, based on Peter Dexter’s novel, may sound ridiculous, that’s partly the point: Lee Daniel’s follow-up to the award-worthy Precious is as un-award-worthy as a film gets. It’s tacky, strange and completely bonkers. That also means its unpredictable, leading you up one garden path before turning it into a swamp surrounded by knifes and people with their tops off. It’s enjoyable to find a film so unexpected.
Efron and McConaughey carry the brunt of the script with sturdy performances, while Cusack enjoys chewing the scenery like his life depends on it. David Oyelowo gives good support as Ward’s flamboyantly sarcastic friend. But Nicole Kidman’s Charlotte walks away with the whole film. Trashy and sexy to boot, she swears and provokes with a gorgeous Southern twang – ensnaring Jack immediately. It’s the kind of turn that recalls Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose; a complete transformation topped off by killer hair.
Daniels shoots the whole thing with an eye for retro pulp. Combining the dross with dreamy visuals, the lowbrow/highbrow mismatch doesn’t always quite work, but the director pulls it off with admirable confidence. What’s going on? It doesn’t matter, because it’s way too much fun.
The result is a lusty, feisty, humid thriller that gets you hot under the collar – and leaves you sweating all over the place.
Watch or rent The Paperboy online on pay-per-view VOD