According to the Red Cross, a pint of Judge Clark Douglas's blood is worth one cookie.
"Am I going crazy? I keep hearing guitar music."
Forty years ago, E.F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) walked out on his wife Julia (Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under) and his children Boyd (Dwight Yoakam, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Warren (Val Kilmer, Wonderland), and Brady (W. Earl Brown, Deadwood). Now, after suffering a mild stroke, E.F. is looking to come back home again. Alas, his wife has succumbed to mental illness in his absence and his sons have grown intensely bitter toward him. It may be too late to patch things up with them, but E.F. still has a chance to develop a relationship with his grandson Fleming (Reece Thompson, Dreamcatcher). Meanwhile, Fleming spends some time dealing with some struggles of his own; particularly a new relationship with the daughter (Hilary Duff, Cheaper by the Dozen) of a local prostitute.
Bloodworth is alternately a film as tiresomely overloaded with clichés as a bad country song and as touchingly heartfelt as a good one. Sporting a script by actor W. Earl Brown (making his screenwriting debut) and directed by young helmer Shane Dax Taylor, the film is terribly rough around the edges (and rough in places a little deeper than that from time to time) but somehow manages to generate individual moments that really resonate. The film pours on the southern-fried conventions until they suddenly add up to something resembling a striking atmosphere. This is a movie that seems to exist inside the reverberations of a minor-key steel guitar chord.
One of Bloodworth's biggest assets is its willingness to embrace the intense southern-gothic elements it hints at early on. For a while, I was concerned that the film was working its way towards a syrupy Hallmark-style third act, but what it delivers is far messier, bolder, and more compelling than that. There are scenes late in the film that veer dangerously close to being laughable, but they're presented with a steely conviction that makes them effectively startling.
The film's second major asset is the impressive cast. Nearly everyone seems to embrace the spirit of the film and deliver enjoyably colorful performances, highlighted by Kristofferson's grizzled turn as the wayward E.F. Val Kilmer goes wildly over the top in his handful of scenes, Dwight Yoakam does some chillingly effective work as Fleming's douchebag father, and Brown shifts effectively between unflappable sturdiness and crazed voodoo religiosity. Hilary Duff actually acquits herself quite well in a key supporting role, and Thompson proves a likeable young lead. Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men) and Brent Briscoe (A Simple Plan) also bring their distinctive screen personas to a handful of enjoyable scenes.
The third significant asset is the music, produced by the ever-reliable T. Bone Burnett. With a couple of key tunes that serve as recurring themes throughout the film, Kris Kristofferson reminds us of what a strong singer he can be. As his enters old age, his voice is attaining a new richness. The original song he wrote for the film ("You Don't Tell Me What to Do") is the sort of thing that might have earned an Oscar nomination if the film were either a bit better or had at least received a bit more attention.
Still, the movie does have share of significant problems. Aside from some moments of dialogue that ring false and some scenes that spell out things that had been successfully implied previously, the film suffers from the fact that E.F. remains a bit more enigmatic than he ought to. This isn't due to Kristofferson's performance, but rather to the fact that the character is given disappointingly little screen time. We spend so much time hearing about him and seeing the effect he has on others; we need to spend some more time with him. Additionally, Frances Conroy seems to have trouble dealing with the vague issues of mental illness her character has been given, and the character never seems convincing as a result.
Bloodworth arrives on DVD sporting a very respectable transfer, which offers strong detail and fares quite well during darker scenes. The film's rural set design is impressive and the cinematography makes the most of the evocative locations. Audio is strong throughout, with the quiet rumbles of the score and songs selections defining the sound of the film. The sound design is solid and dialogue is clean. Extras include a commentary with Brown and Taylor, a brief making-of featurette ("From Page to Screen: The Making of Bloodworth"), a short music video for "Raven's Song," an "Anatomy of a Song: You Don't Tell Me What to Do" featurette and some deleted scenes.
Bloodworth is a mess, but this country-style slice of gothic melodrama is a riveting watch nonetheless. If it sounds like the sort of thing you'd like, consider giving it a rental.
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