Narrated in retrospect by a black woman called Anita (Macy Gray), The Paperboy begins with the murder of a local sheriff, Thurmond Call, whose alleged killer, a volatile man called Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) with a motive for revenge, is convicted of the murder and sentenced to the electric chair.
Anita is housemaid to a newspaper publisher, W. W. Jansen, and the sole support and confidante of Jansen’s troubled younger son Jack (Zac Efron), who was expelled from college for misbehaviour, and works delivering newspapers for his father.
Jack’s elder brother Ward (Matthew McConaughy) is a journalist working for a Miami newspaper, who returns to the family home shortly before Van Wetter is due to be executed, bringing with him a well-dressed, ambitious black journalist from London.
Ward and Yardley are on the hunt for a provocative, crusading story, and after setting up office in Ward’s father’s garage, they set out with Jack in tow to investigate whether Van Wetter is really Call’s killer or not. But elbowing herself into the investigation and all their lives, especially Jack’s, is Charlotte Bliss (Nicole Kidman), a naïve vamp hungry for excitement who is desperate to prove Van Wetter innocent and marry him, although she knows him in prison only through their exchange of steamy letters.
The Paperboy makes for mesmerising viewing, and like the alligators lurking beneath the surface of the Florida swamplands, there is more to the story than meets the eye as viewers are drawn ever deeper into the murky waters of its themes: racism, venality, lust and love, idealism versus ambition.
The Paperboy is compassionate as well as confronting. The violence and sexual content is strong indeed. Be warned. - Jan Epstein, Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Starring: Matthew McConaughy, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Scott Glen, Macy Gray. Directed by Lee Daniels. Rated MA 15+ (strong bloody violence, strong sexual content, coarse language) 108 mins.
The Paper Boy