Director: Shane Dax Taylor
Starring: Val Kilmer, Reece Thompson, Hilary Duff, Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, W. Earl Brown, Frances Conroy, Hilarie Burton
With its just-so production design, characterized chiefly by rust, and a gallery of weathered and otherwise stunted characters fumbling toward some vaguely defined senses of purpose or peace, “Bloodworth”, based on William Gay’s novel “Provinces of Night”, slots comfortably in the cinematic canon of Southern Gothic, wherein everything and everyone is dadgum country-fied, and, well, ain’t that interesting and grand? This isn’t to say that the film, a drama about the long shadows of alcoholism, familial neglect and demons unaddressed, is a terrible or hokey thing, just that its dramatic payoffs come across as relatively meager, and second fiddle to the sense of frozen-in-time place it seems chiefly concerned with conveying.
After abandoning his wife Julia (Frances Conroy) and three sons decades earlier, E.F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson) returns to his dusty, rural Tennessee hometown, where his only real solace comes in the form of a relationship with the grandson he’s never met, Fleming (Reece Thompson). Warren (Val Kilmer), a drunken, philandering traveler in the mold of his father, is more open to reconciliation, but Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) and Brady (W. Earl Brown) are full of anger, and continually lash out at those around them. E.F. sets up shop in a trailer at the edge of his estranged wife’s property, and Fleming keeps occasional company with him, while also striking up a relationship with Raven (Hilary Duff), the daughter of a troubled party girl (Hilarie Burton). As the summer wears on and Fleming makes plans to leave town, tension mounts all around, and a few bad things eventually happen.
A lot of actor-screenwriter Brown’s adaptation is nicely restrained, but there are a couple false notes here and there (including Raven commenting on Fleming’s embarassment with his beat-up car as a positive thing, something no teenage girl has ever done), and the movie’s solemn voiceover narration also overreaches at times. Additionally, Bloodworth ostensibly unfolds in the 1950s, but the director, Shane Dax Taylor, and other filmmakers seem intent on obscuring any degree of greater specificity that might inform the story, as if they’re trying to lend “Bloodworth” a parabolic weight and significance that is beyond the grasp of its narrative.
The acting is so-so. Thompson, such a delight in “Rocket Science” and even quite engaging in the recent “Ceremony”, seems handcuffed by the material’s sometimes dour sense of reflection. Meanwhile, Kilmer play-acts distracted and wears an embroidered jacket that makes him look like the treasurer of a Jack White Fan Club, while other characters smoke so many cigarettes and grunt in boozy disaffection that one wonders where Harry Dean Stanton is — after all, isn’t he contractually obligated to appear in all such works?
Fans of something like Kristen Stewart’s “The Yellow Handkerchief” or Bill Paxton’s “Frailty”, from 2002, might find reward here; while “Bloodworth” isn’t really anywhere near as dark or foreboding as the latter, it does address some of the same issues of the legacy of familial violence and lingering rage, while also conveying a rooted and realistic sense of dusty place, in similar fashion to the former. The participation of a guitar-strumming Kristofferson, along with soundtrack producer T-Bone Burnett, gives this production an unfussy sense of laconic authenticity. Just don’t expect any roundhouse dramatic catharsis; the track upon which “Bloodworth” travels is all too familiar, even if runs through a neighborhood less often glimpsed.
Written by: Brent Simon