AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | November 1, 2010
Director: Shane Dax Taylor
Writers: W. Earl Brown (screenplay), William Gay (novel: Provinces of Night)
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam, Frances Conroy, W. Earl Brown, Hilarie Burton, Sheila Kelley
After a health scare, E.F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson) is returning to the family he abandoned 40 years ago. He left his rural Tennessee home — as well as his wife Julia (Frances Conroy) and three sons — for a life of troubadouring and aimless wandering. The 40 years have been hard on everyone: Julia has withered to an emotionally and physically fragile skeleton; Warren (Val Kilmer) has evolved into an ego-maniacal womanizing alcoholic; Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) lives in a constant state of depression and anger after being ditched by his wife; and Brady (W. Earl Brown) relies on his bible and witchcraft to protect his mother.
Julia and her three sons share a common hatred and resentment for E.F., so when E.F. arrives in town he is promptly ushered by Brady to a disheveled old trailer home on a secluded corner of the family property. Brady attempts to keep E.F.’s reappearance a secret from his mother, which serves as punishment for E.F. and protection for Julia.
Fleming (Reece Thompson), Boyd’s only son and E.F.’s only grandchild, is the only Bloodworth who treats E.F. with respect and admiration. He has probably been told many horrible stories about his grandfather, but Fleming allows his grandfather to commence their relationship with a clean slate. In fact, Fleming seems to relate (physically and mentally) more to his grandfather than the rest of his kin. Not satisfied with the cards he has been dealt in life, Fleming is trying to find a responsible way to escape from his hometown and family — literature appears to be his best chance at success. Fate delivers Fleming into the arms of Raven (Hilary Duff), a beautiful and seductive young woman from a nearby town. Raven’s mother (Sheila Kelley) works from their home as a prostitute — Warren is one of her favorite clients — and she has raised Raven to follow in her footsteps. Like Fleming, Raven’s home life is oppressive at best; so it is only right and natural that Fleming and Raven will find a way to run away together…
Adapted from William Gay’s novel Provinces of Night, Bloodworth is the story of an ardently literate (read: intellectual) teenager who yearns to escape his backwards back-country family and he wants to take his hussy girlfriend with him. (It is very interesting that Fleming is a high school drop-out, yet an enlightened reader of literature.) Unfortunately, this is a story which is propagated by stereotypical white trash Southern characters (alcoholics, womanizers, prostitutes, bible-thumpers, musicians, weak women and controlling men) and limps along relying on one age-old cliché after another. But it is this preponderance of stereotypes and clichés — as well as the timeless production design and Tim Orr’s lush cinematography — that helps Bloodworth play like a classic Southern Gothic tale of redemption.
Quite ably directed by Shane Dax Taylor (The Grey), Kris Kristofferson is amazing as the Bloodworth family’s estranged patriarch and Hilary Duff lends her most emotionally realistic performance to date — in fact, the acting of this mostly seasoned ensemble cast is excellent all around. (Keep an eye out for Hank Williams III as Trigger Lipscomb.)
And then there is the music…Executive music producer T-Bone Burnett’s soundtrack is — as we have come to expect from Burnett — pretty damn amazing. Age has rendered Kristofferson’s vocals grizzled and foreboding, yet soothing and graceful all the same; his voice, like so many of his golden generation of singer-songwriters (Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond), has aged beautifully like a fine wine. I think it is about time for Kristofferson (like Cash and Diamond) to collaborate with Rick Rubin…or maybe Daniel Lanois.