Drawled words and phrases roll off the tongue like backwoods Shakespeare in Bloodworth, the second feature film to be made from a book by Southern Gothic novelist William Gay.
And like That Evening Sun, there's a languorous, lean and literary quality to the low-class Southerners who inhabit the corner of Tennessee where the tale is set. If only the storytelling and acting were up to the quality of the dialogue and sunset-tinted cinematography, Bloodworth would stand with that earlier film as a cinematic argument that we've finally found our successor to William Faulkner.
Fleming Bloodworth (Reece Thompson) dropped out of high school weeks before graduation. When we meet him, Fleming plainly hasn't given up on himself. He's a writer, waiting for his sullen, redneck postman to drop off the latest rejection notice from The Oxford American. Fleming's old man (Pikeville native Dwight Yoakam, hateful and on the mark) barely tolerates the kid's passion.
Just down the road, Fleming's Uncle Brady (screenwriter W. Earl Brown) still lives with his momma (Frances Conroy), whom he is sure has lost any memory of the husband and father who left them 40 years before. When "Pa" makes his way home, we see how unlikely that is.
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Pa, who is recovering from a stroke, is a honky-tonk singer and songwriter. When Kris Kristofferson growls a line about "the right to be righteously wrong," you appreciate how perfect that bit of casting is.
The story isn't particularly organized. It's more a collection of scenes than a coherent coming-of-age tale.
Actor-screenwriter Brown and director Shane Dax Taylor seem addled about what to include and what to leave out here. Not every character or thread is worth following, and a couple of the central performances are tone-deaf. And the film's payoff is clumsy and obvious.
But Kristofferson, Yoakam, Val Kilmer (as Uncle Warren) and Hilary Duff (Raven, a hooker's daughter) create indelible characters in just a few scenes each. And cinematographer Tim Orr, far more at home here than with the recent medieval stoner comedy Your Highness, gives most every scene the shimmering yellows of late afternoon. That gives one hope that someday, somebody will tackle a Gay adaptation (Bloodworth is based on his novel Provinces of Night) and do this Gothic guy justice.