Maybe I should start believing the Financial Times' film critic who gave the above movie nought out of a possible five stars and suggested it should be avoided at all costs. Or maybe I should just stop going to see Nicole Kidman flicks where she is attempting to 'stretch' her acting chops. It is sheer coincidence that I saw her in this film and "Stoker" within a fortnight, but I must remember to give any of her forthcoming roles a very wide berth, despite the fact that she was award-nominated by the Golden Globes folk and others for her trashy performance here -- not, let me add, deserved in any way, shape, or form.
Based on a well-respected novel by Pete Dexter which admittedly I've not read, I gather that the film does not do it justice, despite his having a hand in the screenplay with writer-director Lee Daniels. On the strength of Daniels' previous film "Precious" (a hard-going but ultimately worthwhile movie about an overweight and abused black teenager), the film was selected to compete for the Palme d'or at Cannes last year, where it was nearly booed out of existence. Subsequent critics have been no more kind and I can well understand why, despite the movie having its vociferous defenders on the IMDb boards. In the end, it is a very bad film on so many levels: badly constructed, indifferently shot, wildly miscast, and at times almost impossible to understand through the thick regional accidents adopted by most of the actors. The action is picture-framed and narrated by a black maid, Macy Gray, who worked in the family's house at the time of the action -- a post-segregation South but still a widely prejudiced one. If a film is dependent on a narrator as a facilitator of the events, it does help for the character to be able to speak intelligibly!
The story is a hothouse stew of Southern Gothic, but it is no Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. Hotshot Miami newshound Matthew McConaughey returns to his swampland hometown with his black English 'writing partner' David Oyelowo, to investigate a supposed miscarriage of justice. One lowlife criminal Hillary van Wetter, played by John Cusack in a wildly atypical role, is on death row for the murder of the local redneck sheriff, and the reporters with prison groupie Kidman in tow are out to prove his innocence. She has been sending him sex-laden loveletters and is determined to marry him on his release. The scene where the three of them confront van Wetter (what a pompous name for scum on two legs) in the prison visiting room is such an embarrassment of barely repressed sexuality that I didn't know which way to look. Teen heart-throb Zac Efron plays McConaughey's younger brother, a former high school swimming champion who has been thrown out of college for vandalism and is working as the eponymous paperboy of the title. He spends most of the film prancing about in spanking white underpants setting off his well-toned body, and drives his brother around, developing a deep crush on the white trash Kidman in the process. They begin to bond in the now notorious scene where she fights to be the one to pee all over him when he is badly stung by jellyfish. What fun! He is ultimately rewarded with one token 'bonk' but her heart belongs to the abominable Cusack. Incidentally it is well nigh impossible to believe that the two male leads are really brothers, the unlikely offspring of Scott Glenn and a runaway mother, as they don't look or sound remotely alike
Further revelations include the confirmation of one's suspicions that McConaughey is a far-from-closeted homosexual, who Oyelowo has serviced in exchange for favors, and the hotshot reporter ends up in hospital after being badly beaten and blinded in one eye by some gaybashers. Oyelowo succeeds in writing the expose that gets van Wetter pardoned, but admits that he has only been pretending to be English -- a ploy for a black man to forge a career in the still bigoted South. Mind you, his character and surprisingly enough Efron's were the only two I had no difficulty understanding. I shall avoid spoilers by not revealing where all of this steamy action leads, but you can assume that it is as nasty as it is unexpected. If this makes the film sound like some kind of perverted 'fun' or even a guilty pleasure, take it from me it isn't. It's just bad!