There are moments in Bloodworth, a new Tennessee melodrama starring Kris Kristofferson, that deliver the tangy kick of hard lemonade. Unfortunately, what remains is a sour moonshine aftertaste. What begins as a Faulkner-like tale of a young man's life discovery ends up in a swampy mess, leaving us with a high body count and a limited amount of interest.
Kristofferson's iconic career of classic songwriting and better-than-average acting seems tailor-made for Bloodworth. He plays E.F., the long-absent patriarch of the Bloodworth clan, who abandoned his wife (Frances Conroy) and three sons (W. Earl Brown, Val Kilmer and Dwight Yoakam) to chase a pipe dream as a blues singer. E.F. returns to his Smoky Mountain homestead, with not much more than a guitar and a cane to hold up his broken body's frame. The only Bloodworth blood relative with a kind word to say to E.F. is his grandson, Fleming (Reece Daniel Thompson), a high-school dropout who writes beautiful short stories on a typewriter he pulled from a dumpster. Fleming's passion is for the written word, until he meets Raven (Hilary Duff), the "prettiest girl in three counties."
All the elements of Bloodworth seem to be heaven-sent (or hell-bent): familial conflict, a boy's first love and Kristofferson's music (with some beautiful extra tunes by T Bone Burnett). Unfortunately, the characters never seem to move the story forward. Instead, they roll around like marbles in a cigar box of Southern cliches: "You wanted to make it hard on me ... Hard is what I'm used to."
Too often the dialogue feels like a collection of one-liners. The movie has an overabundance of Bloodworths (father, mother, three sons and a grandson), and as a result, there is shallow consideration of each rather than a detailed, nuanced examination of just two or three.
The movie's source material, William Gay's beautiful 2002 novel Provinces of Night, mined the riches of Tennessee's back roads of the 1950s, but Bloodworth simply doesn't come across as authentic. Instead of a slow, measured, rural pace, it simply feels downtrodden and sullen. In the final reel, a family's legacy of self-destruction plays out and Bloodworth turns ugly. The result is much more Southern Gothic than Southern Comfort.
The pleasant surprise is that the film's best performance comes from Duff, breaking through her teen-queen resume to play a girl much older than her years. Some more good news comes from Kristofferson: He is quite fine as E.F. Bloodworth, but he is in far too few frames and his supporting role isn't strong enough to hold the story upright. His musical performance of "You Don't Tell Me What To Do," is among his best. While I may not invest in a DVD of Bloodworth, I'll be among the first to buy the soundtrack.