Based upon William Gay’s novel, Provinces of Night, Bloodworth is the story of the titular family living in rural Tennessee. Three grown sons, abandoned by their father and forced to contend with the failures and missed opportunities of their lives, must now come to terms with his reappearance as he surprisingly shows up after more than 40 years. The Bloodworths are a fractured, frustrated group and the heart of the film lies in the ways they have failed to fully cope with their abandonment.
E.F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson) is the absent father, husband, and grandfather whose return serves to bring up long-simmering resentments. It’s his relationships with his sons, Warren (Val Kilmer) and Brady (W. Earl Brown) that offer the greatest complication to his arrival, and their almost opposite approaches to dealing with his return are especially telling. However, despite the air of disapproval, his appearance also injects some life into his grandson, Fleming (Reece Thompson), and his wife Julia (Frances Conroy).
While the film has a wonderful cast of actors and the outline of a story that they could serve well, Bloodworth never seems to really get going. There are too many characters, mostly all larger than life, and they’re not given enough opportunity to become fully fleshed out, ultimately resulting in a superficial treatment.
The film would have been better served by focusing on Brady and Fleming as they relate to E.F. in his return. Fleming’s interest and curiosity in his grandfather is understandable. In fact, they share quite a nice moment in the film when E.F. spontaneously composes a song for the girl Fleming has just met, Raven Lee (Hilary Duff). Kristofferson is especially charming in the scene and it’s as if the potential for the film is within grasp, but the rest of it just doesn’t meet the promise of that moment.
Brady’s complicated relationship with his father is the one that seems rife with both emotional and plot possibilities. Brady has taken it upon himself to care for his mother since E.F. left, and the bitterness he holds as a result of his sacrifices are bubbling up from E.F.‘s first appearance. Brown, who also co-wrote the film adaption and served as one of the producers, shines in the role. It’s a pity he was not given more time to do, as his character quirks – he’s a believer in curses and spells – could have made him more three-dimensional, rather than created another underdeveloped plot point.
Additionally, the sweet courtship between Fleming and Raven Lee is a nice counterpoint to the depressed, somber tone of Fleming’s home life, but at times the two seem like pieces of different films. Thompson and Duff play well off one another and they add a spark to the film that is otherwise missing. However, it’s given short shrift and in the end, the film offers a predictable ending to their story.
The film is overstuffed with characters and could have easily done without Warren, his junkie girlfriend, Fleming’s father, Boyd (Dwight Yoakam), and Raven Lee’s mother, Louise. E.F. doesn’t even show up until almost a half hour into the movie, and it seems the large cast is to blame for introducing excessive and redundant characters and plot elements. For example, Yoakam’s Boyd leaves Fleming to go in search of his estranged wife, and whatever parallels one could have drawn between him and his father are ultimately unsatisfying because of the viewer’s lack of investment in such a thinly drawn character.
As the crux of the story centers on E.F.’s desertion of his family, presumably in pursuit of his music dreams, it would make sense to develop that arc fully. However, as it becomes clear that there may be other reasons for his disappearance, they come a little too late to really make much of an impact.
In the end, Bloodworth is a film too ambitious for its own good. While it may have been better served by a more streamlined approach to story and character, the film unnecessarily piles on too much of both. In turn, what may have been affecting or engaging gets lost in this ultimately unsurprising and forgettable film. Well acted and certainly not without potential, the movie has its moments. Unfortunately, they’e not enough to carry the film.
The DVD includes standard behind-the-scenes fare and commentary, some of which is more interesting than the final product as it more clearly delineates the story from book to film, filling in some of the missing threads that were lost in translation.