Bastard out of Carolina Reviews
So often with this kind of subject matter, the temptation is to show the impact it can have on the child, but in Carolina, we also get a strong sense of the volatile adults too. Does the temperamental Glen Waddell (a riveting Ron Eldard) merely lose control at key moments, or is he acutely aware of his actions at all times? How has his upbringing impacted the way he treats his new wife Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh), or her daughter Bone (Jena Malone)? Can we trust and hope that things will get better? Where can this family turn to fix the problem? How have they tried?
As the young Bone, the film is a showcase for young actress Malone. Whether she's trying to hide her injuries from others or staring off in the distance praying her life will improve, her intensity provides a strong foundation for much of the movie's grit. Glenne Headly as the frail Aunt Ruth, Christina Ricci as the role model Dee Dee and Lyle Lovett as Wade are well-suited to their supporting parts.
Director Anjelica Huston builds moments of fear and tension in such a way that, when the abuse does take place, we feel a seething anger at Glen for what he does to Bone; we are momentarily privy to the seething anger he himself feels. It's an unnerving kind of osmosis, and Huston doesn't pull back on exposing the graphic violence that is required to understand how these situations have developed and will sadly continue to transpire.
What Bastard Out of Carolina intimately understands is that abuse often comes masked in the illusion that things will change or get better. The promises that are made and then broken can cause deeper trauma and unrest than the abuse itself, because it is a false hope. Dysfunctional relationships are cyclical, returning right back at the start. And the touching closing scene of this film illustrates this kind of pattern very delicately.