The Paperboy (2012), directed by Lee Daniels

I have to say, I like a movie like The Paperboy.

It’s lurid and strange and dripping in sweat. It’s dirty and dark. It’s a neo-noir and exploitation film all wrapped into one. It’s really quite good.

The Paperboy is about a murder investigation by a group of newspaper men, two brothers and another writer. They’re trying to clear the name of a man they believe to have been wrongfully convicted for the murder of a much-hated sheriff.

To stir the pot, in comes Nicole Kidman’s Charlotte Bless, an oversexed beauty with a thing for inmates. She’s fallen in love with the convicted (John Cusack) by mail and wants to help the boys spring him. They start to dig and things get weird.

I feel like this is the kind of movie you’re either going to really enjoy, on at least some level, or you’re really going to reject. There’s not a lot of middle ground. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I sure enjoyed the heck out of it, for the most part.

It’s not perfect. It has a middle section that gets a little lost, and the whole thing could have been tightened up. The problem is the movie has one of those plots where it starts off being about one thing and then half way through you realize it’s about something else, which is a pretty classic film noir move. But for modern audience, used to A leading to B leading to C, this can make it difficult to retain interest.

As my attention began to wane I actually gave myself a little internal pep talk to stay with it and focus on what the film wanted me to focus on, not on the murder plot that had gone sideways. And so I tried and by the end of the film I was once again pretty well wrapped up in it.

A lot of critics bashed the movie for being lurid, “sordid,” “ugly trash.”  I like this one: “a brutishly overwrought melodrama that plays like Tennessee Williams on absinthe.” That was from a negative review, but that sounds pretty good to me.

Rick Groen wrote “If the wallowing were deliberate, this might have been hugely funny,” which I think really epitomizes the sentiment of people who don’t get B-movies or exploitation films. I’m not claiming to be any hardcore aficionado, but I’m into that type of movie enough that I don’t need them to be funny for me to enjoy them.

I like campy B-movies, don’t get me wrong, even modern tongue-in-cheek homages like Machete or Hobo With a Shotgun. But to think that all B-movies have to be funny is to reject a whole history of lurid, dark, dirty filmmaking intended to shock, titillate, horrify and generally push boundaries. I understand that most people would and do reject that history, but I think it’s an important function of cinema. And I can appreciate a modern homage to that tradition.

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, when I go to the movies, I want to see some raw, rough stuff. I want to be shocked and pushed. I don’t necessarily want a movie that sugarcoats things and gives me a pleasant little viewing experience. Or even a film that just takes me to the edge of that cliff but never jumps off. Sometimes I want a sweaty, strange, stinking hot, lurid, crime-filled mess of a movie to sink my teeth into.

The Paperboy is by no means perfect or any sort of a masterpiece but I would argue that it’s a quality bit of neo-noir and a pretty unique viewing experience for this day and age. What other movie would you see John Cusack and Nicole Kidman, er, pleasure themselves together in a prison? Or Kidman, er, help out Zac Efron with a jellyfish sting? Or Matthew McConaughey, er, get cut up taking part in some nefarious liaisons, shall we say?

And it’s not just that it has lurid content that makes The Paperboy some sort of great movie, it’s that it’s all shot so well and executed (no pun intended) with great, over-the-top performances and that you can feel that Florida summer swamp heat just burning off the screen. The film is dripping with raging sexuality; it’s sweaty and unravelled, it’s messy and dangerous. And most of all, it’s compelling as hell.

If that sounds like something you could get into then I recommend The Paperboy. If it’s not then I hear Wreck-It Ralph is not bad.

The Paperboy is in theatres now.