Film review: The Paperboy (15)

High-school hunk delivers in steamy thriller

Zac Efron comes of age in this lurid and sweat-drenched crime drama set in late-Sixties Florida, and adapted from Peter Dexter's novel with no small amount of style and swagger by Lee Daniels, the director of Precious.

Efron plays Jack Jansen, a college dropout who takes on a position at the local paper, and joins his older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) on an investigation into the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a redneck on Death Row for murder. The brothers are investigating at the behest of Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who began as Van Wetter's penpal and soon after became his fiancè.

A character in the tradition of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and a siren with whom Jack is immediately smitten, Bless is a hyper-sexed, damaged bottle blonde who knows how to flaunt what she's got and how to get what she wants. The film's central mystery is what Bless wants with Van Wetter, a reptilian character who learned his interpersonal skills from the alligators among which he lived in the Florida swamps.

Less interested in plot mechanics than character and mood, The Paperboy is a high- class piece of trash cinema that simmers with dangerous desires, racial tension and the threat of violence, before boiling over into an all-out pulp melodrama full of S&M sex, drugs and jellyfish stings. Everyone in it plays their part well, but Kidman delivers the kind of unexpected, jaw- dropping, movie-star performance that you can't take your eyes off, even when you'd like to.