The Paperboy

Florida, 1969, and in the midst of a summer so hot, “God himself must’ve been sweating”, a small-town sheriff is murdered. Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) will go to the chair for the crime, unless local investigative reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) – aided by brother Jack (Zac Efron) and oversexed convict groupie Charlotte (Nicole Kidman) – can prove otherwise. Heat sears through the screen as the muggy murder-mystery converges with a young man’s sexual coming-of-age, a first love forged in the salty fires of piss on a jellyfish sting.

Director Lee Daniels tenaciously fosters the same provocative, naturalistic atmosphere that won Precious so many plaudits, and his cast is faultless. Cusack in particular impresses as sleazy swamp-dwelling Hillary. However, strong turns and sharp-edged characterisation fail to mollify the lingering feeling that this is a fairly by-the-numbers noir procedural dressed up with some charged sexual and racial politics. The Paperboy hints at something great, but squint past the trickles of perspiration and you’re left wanting.

Originally published in The Skinny magazine.


Killer Joe


William Friedkin’s uncomfortably funny thriller is hard to enjoy, but easy to admire. Taking this disturbing trip into a sweaty, depraved backalley of Americana is Emile Hirsch, a small-time drug dealer owing a life-threatening debt, who persuades his trailer-trash father (Thomas Haden Church) to have his estranged wife contract killed, and claim the life insurance. Naturally, things do not go according to plan.

From Gina Gershon’s pubic hair onwards, it’s clear Friedkin’s appetite for provocation has not dimmed, and the veteran director’s eye is as sharp as ever. Knockout performances come from future Brit star Juno Temple and rarely-this-good Matthew McConaughey, as the indomitable psychopath Joe.  The script, from playwright Tracy Letts, is unpredictable and sometimes uneven, with many long, dialogue-heavy scenes better suited to the stage. But it is powerfully dense and often blackly funny, especially as a knowing study of Texan etiquette. And McConaughey’s unexpected new career trajectory, from shirtless heartthrob to complex anti-hero, continues apace.

Originally published in The Skinny magazine. 

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