Review: Bloodworth (2010)

There’s always a sneaking suspicion that every touring musician is just running away from home. InĀ Bloodworth, the longer they stay away, the more everyone gets hurt when they return.

Adapted from Provinces of Night, William Gay’s 2002 novel of the Tennessee back waters, Bloodworth walks a similar path to another of his recently adapted stories, SXSW 2008 award winner That Evening Sun. Both combine a slow-burn rural drama with an ensemble cast of rare authenticity.

The three Bloodworth boys have been living quietly, if not happily, ever since their daddy E.F. (Kris Kristoferson) ran away forty years ago. Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) is a drunk and a bully: Brady (scriptwriter W. Earl Brown) has curdled his brain with a mix of Old Testament fury and the untrammeled rage of an abandoned child; While Warren (Val Kilmer) is his father’s son, a dissolute womanizer with a taste for cheap honky-tonks and expensive drugs. Only Boyd’s boy Flemming (Reece Thompson) seems to stand a chance of redemption.

That is, until E.F. turns up, old, ill, and carrying the same guitar he held when he walked out the screen door. That’s when four decades of hate, bile and family secrets come swirling up. With his abusive father, his self-destructive uncles, and a grandfather that never did a good deed in his whole life, it’s a question of whether the one good son amongst a family of bad seeds can thrive.

Think of it was Crazy Heart‘s twin, but one with the mark of Cain burned deep into its flesh. After all, Jeff Bridges did an Oscar-Winning turn channeling Kristoferson, and his songwriter T-Bone Burnet serves as executive producer here. But there’s none of its sibling’s booze-soaked, bittersweet romance.

Instead, this is a low-key affair, given strength beyond expectation by a clan of powerhouse performances. Thompson provides a quiet core for the action, aspiring to something greater than his roots but without the emotional tools to escape. Kristoferson brings a road warrior’s courage to the ailing E.F., while Kilmer breaks his run of straight-to-DVD disasters with his strongest performance since the under-rated Spartan.

The big surprise here may be an unrecognizable Hilary Duff: Anyone expecting some Lizzie Maguire antics will get possibly the biggest break from tween-friendly fare since Kerri Russell dumped Felicity for cannibals in Grimm Love. But it’s Brown’s seething rage as Brady, the self-appointed head of the household and guardian of his frail mother (Frances Conroy), that provides some of the film’s most emotionally savage moments.

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