It's Florida in 1969 and in the midst of a summer so hot that “God himself must’ve been sweating", a small-town sheriff is murdered. Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack) will go to the chair for the crime, unless local investigative reporter Ward Jansen (McConaughey) - aided by brother Jack (Efron) and oversexed convict groupie Charlotte (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. [John Nugent]