Film: The Paperboy (2012) Cast includes: Macy Gray (Spider-Man), Zac Efron (17 Again), Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer), Nicole Kidman (The Others), John Cusack (High Fidelity), David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland), Scott Glen (The Hunt for Red October) Writer/Director: Lee Daniels (Precious, Monster's Ball) Genre: Dark Mystery | Thriller from a novel by Peter Dexter (107 minutes)

"A lot of people have guessed about what took place." But the book was dedicated to Anita, and now she's going to tell us what really happened when the Moat County, Fla., sheriff was killed: "a nasty son of a gun... someone finally got fed up and killed him... little Jackie was just five."

But in the summer of 1969 Jack Jansen, kicked off the swim team, is home from college and needs something to do besides hanging out in his room, marinating in teenaged hormones. As the youngest brother, he's used to being fussed over by Anita, the family maid, who seems to know Jack better than he knows himself. The Jansens are a newspaper family with fairly liberal views on civil rights and social issues. Jack's brother, Ward, has been making quite a name for himself at the Miami Times and that hot August, he's suddenly back in town poking his nose into an old murder case. Hillary Van Wetter's sitting on death row, awaiting execution, and it looks like a good story for Ward and his "associate," Yardley Ackeman, a black man from London with an unnatural preoccupation for finding a good dry cleaner. No one in town much appreciates Ward's meddling -- except for Charlotte Bless.

Charlotte's been writing letters to prison inmates for years in search of true love. And she's finally found the one: Hillary Van Wetter. Convinced of his innocence, she's gotten the "paperboys" interested in investigating. Her two boxes ("any thing you need to know that's been in the papers is in the top box; all our exciting correspondence is in the bottom box") will get Ward and Yardley started. They need a driver, so Jack gets the job. Charlotte is quite a number. Anita knows right away that "Jack's in love with that nasty piece of white trash." Charlotte knows it too and enjoys taunting Jack. The interview at the prison isn't very informative because sex-starved Hillary Van Wetter and Charlotte share imaginary oral sex that's so steamy the guards have to end the interview. It nearly drives Jack crazy -- "he's used to masturbating in his room to all those nudie magazines under his bed." Town folks don't know what business it is of Ward's anyway. They know all about Ward's issues... but we don't.

This sultry, steamy mystery-thriller literally throbs with undercurrents of sinister secrets and backstories. At first it seems to be about the Hillary Van Wetter case, but we soon notice allusions to other mysteries and secrets. The very effective voiceover narration of the family maid both sets the tone and focuses the story at key points. There's a touch of quirky humor but never enough to really take the edge off the uncomfortable sense of foreboding we have right from the beginning. Writer/director Lee Daniels (Best Picture nomination for Precious) knows how to build subtle suspense with a well-crafted script, first-rate acting, excellent cinematography and score. The Paperboy won't appeal to everyone. But if you enjoy a deliciously dark Southern Gothic thriller, this one's about as good as they get. "Jack, I really messed up this time."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4) A steamy Southern Gothic tale about reporters digging into an old murder case and finding a whole shitload of trouble

Popcorn Profile Rated: R (Language, partial nudity, violence, sexual content) Audience: Young adults Distribution: Mainstream wide release Mood: Sober Tempo: Cruises comfortably Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism Character Development: Engaging Language: True to life Social Significance: Pure entertainment

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