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PROVINCES OF NIGHT, 2010
Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Hillary Duff, Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam, Reece Thompson, W. Earl Brown, Sheila Kelley, Frances Conroy
E.F. Bloodworth has returned to his home - a forgotten corner of Tennessee - after forty years of roaming. The wife he walked out on has withered and faded, his three sons are grown and angry. Warren is a womanizing alcoholic, Boyd is driven by jealousy to hunt down his wife and her lover, and Brady puts hexes on his enemies from his mamma's porch. Only Fleming, the old man's grandson, treats him with the respect his age commands, and sees past all the hatred to realize the way it can poison a man's soul. It is ultimately the love of Raven Lee, a sloe-eyed beauty from another town, that gives Fleming the courage to reject this family curse.
Based on William Gay’s 2000 novel “Provinces of Night”, “Bloodworth” is simply a movie about hatred. And not necessarily the kind of hatred that frustrates you and makes you hate back. Director Shane Dax Taylor and screenwriter/star W. Earl Brown adapted this story about an emotionally wounded family of men in the Deep South in ways that capture the humor and sensitivity within Gay’s original novel.
The story is motivated by the sudden news that E.F. Bloodworth (a typically haggard and world-weary Kris Kristofferson) has returned to his rural home in Tennessee after twenty years of roaming the countryside as a presumable fugitive. We never truly learn the nature of his alleged crimes, only that he has people looking for him.
His three adult sons are jostled by the news of his arrival, but have mostly inundated themselves in such self-destructive behavior that the return of their aged and hermitic father seems the least of their problems. Alcohol, religion, and homicidal tendencies have fueled the Bloodworths with enough bitterness to frost the surrounding swamp water into a block of dirty and vile ice. Each member appears to be heading toward a path of certain destruction, and no one but the old man’s grandson seems to care.
Like Gay’s novel, the script chooses teenager Fleming Bloodworth (Reece Thompson) to navigate the story through his innocent and maturing point-of-view. Abandoned by his father Boyd (Dwight Yoakam), so that he can kill his cheating wife and her lover, Fleming survives his isolation by connecting with his uncles and long-last grandfather. Since all he has learned from Boyd is a lifetime of anger and resentment, E.F.’s presence is a warm beacon of hope and enlightenment in this young man’s life. He represents a harmonic chord resonating clarity within the chaotic symphony of his life.
Screenwriter W. Earl Brown plays Brady, the seemingly most responsible member of the family, although he clearly has his own issues. He has embraced Bible-thumping America to the fanatical level of casting curses on his enemies from the front porch of the house he shares with his mother (Frances Conroy). Resentful and still bleeding from his father’s abandonment, he typifies the ticking-time-bomb of a home dweller: a man who has kept himself from happiness for far too long.
If Boyd represents uncontrolled vengeance in young Fleming’s life, then Brady personifies the extreme opposite: calculated fanaticism. Unlike Boyd’s brooding hostility that explodes into rampant violence, Brady focuses his hatred squarely upon those who have wronged him. And at the top of that list is Mr. E.F. Bloodworth. Their confrontation with one another is a sermon for estranged fathers everywhere. Brady accuses him of cowardice. E.F. simply tells him to get over it.
After nearly fifteen years of performances in bad B-movies you never heard of and heavily mocked appearances in the ones you have (“Alexander”, “Batman Forever”, etc.), Kilmer finally gets to dominate the screen again as Fleming’s womanizing uncle Warren, who spends nearly every moment of his screentime drunk or on the way there. By forcing Fleming to accompany him to the local whorehouse, Warren enables the first step to his nephew’s blossoming sexuality.
While Warren boozes it up with the house madam, Louise Halfacre (Sheila Kelley), Fleming assumes the nice guy persona and sneaks off to win the heart of her daughter, Raven (a simplified and extremely likable Hilary Duff). Things get complicated. And they get ugly. And then they get murderous.
The film’s greatest achievements are the performances from its star players, particularly Kilmer, who happily brings a warehouse of comedy to his role. Warren is a miserable degenerate, who clearly became afflicted from his father’s alcoholism. But that doesn’t make this performance any less fun to watch. It is hard to voice the same sentiments for Kristofferson or Yoakam. The portrayals of their characters are fine, but maybe just a bit too similar to ones we have seen them play before.
Cinematographer Tim Orr also deserves honorable recognition for his faithful representation of the mid-twentieth-century Deep South. The look and feel of this picture is truly backwaters America, and you can almost feel the warmth of Tennessee sunlight when it’s captured by Orr’s camera.
And do not be alarmed by Hilary Duff’s appearance in this movie, by the way. The musical soundtrack, produced by music legend T-Bone Burnett, is the traditional twang and strum you would expect of a movie that takes place in the south, circa 1952. There are even a couple of scenes where Kristofferson picks up a guitar. Like E.F.’s embattled life before and after he reached his family, Burnett’s overall score is a blues musician’s dream playlist.
But while these aspects of “Bloodworth” make it an enjoyable and watchable film, it cannot be denied that the story’s final act is lackluster and incomplete. It’s one of those movies that simply ends in the middle of insurmountable conflict. There are so many plot devices running wild that are suddenly extinguished by the sight of the final credit crawl. You may find yourself asking, “So what happened to them all?” And you may even catch yourself thinking about it the next day. But this enigma will fade and become forgotten. The best advice is to expel any hope of discovering enlightenment from Fleming Bloodworth’s adventure with his family. This is more like a character study. It examines each member of the Bloodworth clan individually, as they each create their own separate and private path to Hell.
PROVINCES OF NIGHT