Shane Dax Taylor’s Bloodworth, adapted from the novel Provinces of Night by William Gay, lives and dies by its Southern Gothic trappings. The film follows the same paths that William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor once trod, but at the same time resembles the more modern Southern fiction of late novelist Larry Brown—an author Gay’s work is often compared to—with its subplots of heartbroken, alcoholic good ol’ boys and the film’s occasional outbursts of violence and tragedy.
The story involves the Bloodworths, a Tennessee clan headed up by E.F. (Kris Kristofferson), who returns home four decades after leaving his family. That desertion, it seems, has pretty much royally screwed up his kids. Warren (Val Kilmer) is an alcoholic country singer, Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) is bitter alcoholic mechanic whose wife just left him, and Brady (the film’s screenwriter W. Earl Brown) is a fortune-telling religious zealot. The only one in the family who has come out relatively sane is Boyd’s son Fleming (Reece Thompson, Dreamcatcher), an aspiring writer and high-school dropout.
Most of the movie is seen through Fleming’s eyes, following E.F.‘s return home and the fallout that follows his reappearance. We quickly learn that E.F.’s reasons for leaving are—of course—more than what his sons assumed. This painful family reunion also happens to coincide with Fleming’s burgeoning romance with a local girl named Raven (a not great, but not embarrassing Hilary Duff). Being the type of Southern Gothic tale it is, everything soon spirals out of control, complete with fits of melodrama. For the most part, this works, at least if you can allow yourself to simply go with it. However, the script makes one nearly fatal mistake, when—to suit a plot twist between Fleming and Raven—we jump forward in time two months. While it drives that part of the story, the jump also means that other chunks of the movie simply don’t make sense as far as the timeline goes. This doesn’t quite kill the movie, but it is a glaring flaw in continuity, and one that’s barely overcome by the cast and direction.
This is obviously not a big-budget production, but Bloodworth does boast solid filmmaking all around. Occasionally, it transcends being simply solid—as in the harrowing scene where Boyd finally confronts his wife—but not nearly often enough. By its nature, Bloodworth is an unwieldy work, but in many places the movie is too succinct, and its many plot threads are not as developed as they need to be. While this doesn’t ruin the movie, it does leave me with the nagging feeling that it could’ve been much more. Rated R for language, some violence and drug content.