At first glance, Daniel’s new film, The Paperboy, looked to have all the hallmarks of a tried and tested romantic tale of good vs evil; McConaughey, Efron and Kidman doing their thing in a sun-drenched Florida.
But on closer viewing, you see that this ain’t your average romance-fuelled flick. And shame on us for thinking the director of Precious would be so lazy as to lay anything average at our door. This is a lust- fuelled labyrinth of half-truths and sweat that weaves along a shadowy path and sets your mind whirring and, at times, your stomach flipping.
While The Paperboy is a tale of good vs evil, the good in the characters is hidden behind self-serving agendas and the evil is everywhere, threatening everyone, all the time. So we don't actually know who we're rooting for. But is that a bad thing? Not really. If anything, it's a testament to the outstanding performances from the leading – and supporting – actors. Because this isn’t this isn’t McConaughey, Efron and Kidman as you know them. This is a steamy, sweaty, slimy, swampy transformation of these ex-romcom regulars. A muddy and murky McConaughey; a grizzled, chiselled and vulnerable Efron and a cheap, nasty and neon Nicole.
This is also a masterclass in character conjuring from Cusack of who we see more than enough of despite his detestable character, Hillary Van Wetter’s, limited time on screen. The usually charismatic Cusack is as creepy and lamentable a (supposed) villain as you could wish to see, and you can almost smell the revulsion seeping out of his pores with every bead of despicable sweat.
And the story itself is far from "regular". Lauded for its bravery, it has to be said that The Paperboy is not for everyone. A handful of scenes are genuinely shocking and leave a stain on the audience which marks this as a rare cinematic journey into brutal realism. Yet it goes beyond realism and tests the audience's threshold to the point of being offensive.
Make no mistake; this film isn’t for the faint-hearted. Attention is a must, as is a strong stomach, because this film can feel like a struggle. But if atmosphere is your bag, then pack your bag and hop on in, because this one takes you off-road and downstream to the murky depths of the sweaty swamplands.
EXTRAS ★★ Interviews with stars Cusack, Kidman, McConaughey, Efron, Gray, Oyelowo and Glenn, producer Hilary Shor, and director Daniels (21:06); and a making-of featurette (6:00).