Dark, disturbing and full of unlikeable characters, The Paperboy is a gritty thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.
It’s a hot summer in the 1960s, and successful reporter Ward (McConaughey) returns home to his southern town with colleague Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). The pair are out to prove the innocence of Hillary van Wetter (John Cusack), a nasty, nasty man who has been wrongly put on death row for murdering a sheriff.
They’re helped by Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a needy, overly sexualised woman who has been writing letters to van Wetter in prison, and who plans to marry him when he’s released.
As Ward and Yardley dig deeper, Ward’s brother Jack (Efron) becomes obsessed with Charlotte, and the group find themselves being drawn ever deeper into the swamp that is van Wetter and his family.
The Paperboy is full of black humour, interspersed with disturbing scenes which will leave you wondering where to look. Standout moments of crassness come in two scenes – the one with the jellyfish, and the one with the first visit to van Wetter in prison. Both will have you glancing away, and feature Kidman as you’ve never seen her before (and never want to again).
While the central aim for the characters is proving van Wetter’s innocence (you can’t help but wish they fail), The Paperboy isn’t about who actually murdered the sheriff. That plot is simply a tool to learn more about Ward, Yardley, Jack and Charlotte, and the things they learn about each other are often unappetising but can lead to some touching moments – we are shown Ward and Jack’s bond as brothers, for example, multiple times.
The Paperboy features some great performances from all its central cast, as well as from supporting actress Macy Gray, whose servant Anita is both friend, adviser and mother to Jack, and whose husky tones narrate the whole film.
A sweaty noir, The Paperboy is compelling viewing, even when you don’t like what you’re seeing.
•The Paperboy is out on DVD and Blu-ray from July 29.