An idealistic Miami reporter (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his Florida hometown to investigate the grisly murder of the sheriff and the potentially unlawful imprisonment of a death row inmate (John Cusack). As the man accused of the killing awaits execution, his sexy fiancée (Nicole Kidman) – a woman with a penchant for convicted killers – rallies for his innocence. With Ward’s disillusioned younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) as their driver, they barrel down Florida’s back roads and seamy places in search of 'the story.'

Based on the 1995 novel by Peter Dexter.

Saucy swamp tale elicits great performances.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: In grasping for an appropriate genre in which to lump Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, I could happily settle on 'melo-noir-ma’, if such a thing existed and also, didn’t make me cringe.

[Kidman] works her scenes with every ounce of her being, and not just in the headline-grabbers when she riffs on that interrogation from Basic Instinct, or where she rains a golden shower on Zac Efron.

But then, lots of scenes in The Paperboy will have the latter effect on some audiences, for the gutsy extremes to which Daniels provokes his ensemble cast. If you don't like it, it's your loss, quite frankly, because Daniels’ pulpy tale of Florida swamp-dwellers and dark, dirty love, is really very good.

Matthew McConaughey is Ward James, the eldest son of the local newspaper man (Scott Glenn), returned from Miami to investigate the looming execution of potentially innocent man (a vile John Cusack). Ward has a hunch that Hillary Van Wetter was framed, and comes back to check facts with the locals, along with fellow writer Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). The latter’s clipped British lilt and designer clothes buffer the unchecked racism directed at a black man deemed to be rising above his station. With Ward’s wide-eyed younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) in tow, they pore over case files, and consult Hillary’s saucy pen-pal-turned-fiance, Charlotte (Nicole Kidman).

As the damaged Charlotte, Kidman gives a wet-lipped update to the To Die For character that surprised Hollywood 17 years ago. Kidman re-establishes her reputation for riskiness as a tarted up 40-something babydoll with a general soft spot for boys in trouble, and a specific yearning for men in prison. Kidman works her scenes with every ounce of her being, and not just in the two headline-grabbing moments in which she riffs on that interrogation from Basic Instinct, and when she rains a golden shower on Zac Efron. Her scenes with Efron are playful and forthright, and sit in sharp relief to the power dynamic of those with Cusack.

Man-of-the-moment McConaughey gets his fair share of shocks too, as part of his stated readiness to incorporate his pecs and southern charms into edgier indie roles, away from interchangeable 'rom-coms’. (His other film at Cannes, Mud, is another swampy tale that exposes a softer side.) Efron too, toys with his pretty-boy persona, as a teen overwhelmed by cataclysmic puppy lust.

Macy Gray follows the 'Lee Daniels pathway’ from music-to-film that which served
Mariah Carey so well in Precious; Gray is the film’s anchoring force, the observant housekeeper/scratchy-voiced-narrator, Anita.

Dream sequences and a grindhouse-style keep the story out of 'social commentary’ and anchor it in genre-mode, but Daniels deals with the knock-on-effects of a late-'60s homicide, with precision, humour and finesse.

It certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes (and indeed, it’s received a mixed response here at Cannes), but The Paperboy is really worth seeking out when Roadshow releases it later this year.