By Linc Leifeste | May 19, 2011
Director: Shane Dax Taylor
Writers: W. Earl Brown (screenplay), William Gay (novel)
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam, Frances Conroy, W. Earl Brown, Hilarie Burton, Sheila Kelley, Barry Corbin
Ever stumble across a recipe that looks amazing on paper, has all the right ingredients to whet your appetite, but after you spend a couple of hours in the kitchen you wind up with a disappointing dish? That’s Bloodworth in a nutshell. When I initially heard about this film I found my mouth watering just a little bit. A southern gothic family drama featuring Kris Kristofferson as a washed up country singer with Dwight Yoakam and Val Kilmer as his violent, depressive, alcoholic and hedonistic redneck sons? Throw in an appearance by Barry Corbin and a tiny cameo by Hank Williams’ (that’s Sr., mind you) grandson, Hank III, for good measure. And T-Bone Burnett as Executive Music Producer? Really, how can you go wrong here? And as if that’s not enough, it even features a cameo product placement for one of my favorite magazines (Oxford American). Well, any dish is only as good as the recipe it’s made from and in this case it’s a shame to see such delicious ingredients go to waste.
Originally titled “Provinces of Night,” after its source novel by William Gay, the film relates the story of E.F. Bloodworth (Kristofferson) and his return to the family he abandoned 40 years earlier to pursue the life of a country singer and rambler. Returning to his rural Tennessee roots, he discovers that his three sons, who all hold grudges for his disappearance, are not faring well. Boyd (Yoakam) is under the grips of a spiraling depression after being abandoned by his wife. Warren (Kilmer) is a womanizing pearl-snap wearing bar owner who seems to be loaded with cash and drugs despite apparently spending most of his time driving around in a convertible Cadillac with his perpetually stoned and scantily clad girlfriend Hazel (Hilarie Burton). And then there’s Brady (W. Earl Brown), afflicted with a condition that causes him to limp and lurch and occasionally twitch, who has devoted his life to caring for his abandoned and mentally decaying mother Julia (Frances Conroy) while also finding time to both study the Bible and a big of witchcraft.
Upon his arrival, E.F. is quickly shuffled off by Brady to a trailer on a corner spot of his acreage in order to protect Julia from having to deal with his return. Boyd has already slunk off to Nashville to search for his runaway wife but it quickly becomes apparent that both Brady and Warren have no interest in building a relationship with their father. But in Boyd’s teenage son Fleming (Reece Thompson), the only Bloodworth with redeeming qualities and in whom E.F. sees a younger much nobler version of himself , there’s a trace of compassion. Fleming, despite being a high-school dropout, is a well-read aspiring writer who wants to escape both his family and his surroundings. While Hillary Duff gives a suitable performance as his romantic interest and the daughter of a prostitute favored by Uncle Warren, I found Thompson unconvincing in his role, never letting me forget for a second that he was acting.
While not a light-hearted family comedy in its first half, I was unprepared for the over-the-top deeply dark direction the film took in its second half. And unmoved. Despite compelling performances by Kristofferson and Yoakam and a solid turn by Kilmer I found myself uninvested in the escalating calamities that overtook each of them. The film is filled with too many stock Southern characters, cliched and formulaic plot developments and stilted wooden dialogue. As well, director Shane Dax Taylor’s ill-conceived use of murky and muddled flashbacks to convey some sense of the dark secrets that lie in the Bloodworth’s past didn’t work for me. Mostly it just led me to regret what could have been, the missed opportunity of seeing this cast in a better executed parable about the sins of the father being visited upon the sons.