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.