This adaptation of Pete Dexter's acclaimed 2005 novel wallows in the most depraved elements of its Southern-grotesque swampland narrative, even adding a few of its own. Director Lee Daniels displayed a similar tendency in the overpraised Precious, which dwelled on vomit and hairy pig's knuckles; here, we get alligator disemboweling, a woman urinating on a man's face, and a rape scene intercut with shots of snorting pigs. Subtlety is not Daniels' trademark. The story is about a star Miami newspaper reporter, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) who returns to his northern Florida hometown in 1969 to investigate the case of a redneck alligator skinner (John Cusack, inspired casting) on death row for the murder of a despised sheriff. Ward, his writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) and Ward's admiring younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron) team up with Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), the inmate's middle-aged pen-pal fiancée, whose steamy sexuality bedevils the men, especially Jack. The film's at its best when depicting Jack's complicated relationships with his family's maid, Anita (Macy Gray) and the enigmatic tease Charlotte. Unfortunately, the novel's murder-and-journalism story is told so elliptically it's almost incomprehensible (Dexter wanted his name removed from the screenwriting credits). The editing, camera work, and R&B soundtrack are stylish, however, and the performances are meaty. This is the kind of movie that gets people arguing: on one hand, it's ludicrous; on the other, you can't take your eyes off it. Cedar Lee, Cinemark Valley View. — Pamela Zoslov
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