By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 12, 2011 at 12:58PM
It's not too long since we last lamented the state of John Cusack's career: long one of our favorite actors, the decade or so since "High Fidelity" has seen at best, enjoyable-but-flawed movies like "Runaway Jury," "The Ice Harvest" or "1408," through to films that were barely released, like "Grace Is Gone" and "The Contract," to, at worst, pictures that were never released, like "Shanghai" and serial killer thriller "The Factory," both shot in 2008, and still sitting on the shelf. But signs are good for a comeback: he's playing Edgar Allan Poe in next year's period thriller "The Raven," he's written another dark comedy the Latin American satire "Dictablanda," and now, he's signing on to a big production with a hefty pedigree.
It was announced in May that Lee Daniels, director of the Oscar-nominated "Precious," would be following up that film with "The Paperboy," a crime movie adapting the best-seller by Pete Dexter. A 1960s-era thriller, set in Florida, it involves Ward James, a respected journalist and his brother Jack, a college dropout, investigating the possible wrongful conviction of a death row inmate who was convicted of killing the town's sheriff. It was best known previously as the possible English-language debut of Pedro Almodovar, who developed the film for a decade.
Daniels took over earlier in the year, and eyed Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron as Ward and Jack, with Tobey Maguire and Sofia Vergara lined up for other parts, but the latter two were forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, Maguire with "The Great Gatsby," Vergara with her TV hit "Modern Family." But Daniels hasn't wasted much time, with Nicole Kidman circling Vergara's role of Charlotte Bless, a woman who writes to prison inmates, and now Variety reports that John Cusack has signed on to replace Maguire on the project.
Cusack will play Hillary Van Wetter, the convicted inmate, and it certainly seems like a change of pace for the actor, which can only be a good thing. Interestingly, the draft of the script we have, dated the end of April, credits both Daniels and Almodovar with revisions, suggesting that the baby hasn't been thrown out with the bathwater, and that some of the great Spanish director's influence may remain on the project.
Like Cusack, Kidman and McConaughey are showing signs of pulling out of a slump, the former winning an Oscar nomination for "Rabbit Hole," the latter starring in the pleasantly surprising "The Lincoln Lawyer" and shunning dreadful rom-coms to work with Richard Linklater and William Friedkin: between them and Efron, who needs to prove himself as an adult lead, it's a cast with something to prove, and that could add up to something interesting. While we were no great fans of "Precious," it did at least showcase that Daniels has a way with actors, and if he can rein in his worst directorial excesses, this could be one to keep an eye on.