Bastard Out of Carolina (1996) Poster

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Perhaps the Strongest Argument Against Child Abuse Ever Filmed
jeral25 May 1999
This film gnawed at me. And gnawed, and gnawed. It's a difficult film to really "like", considering the subject matter, but the acting and directing were so outstanding that the film must be seen. The casting was so dead on; Ron Eldard, an actor I knew only from his role on "ER", was chillingly effective as the handsome-yet-monstrous "Daddy Glen", young Jena Malone came across as an old pro as little Bone, and I was overjoyed to see Michael Rooker, a talented and often overlooked actor, take a rare turn as good guy Earle. Also good to see Diana Scarwid get a rare role into which she could really sink her teeth. I must confess, the scene in which Earle, Wade, and Travis beat the stuffing out of Glen at the funeral had me cheering and swinging my own fists. If anyone out there - particularly women whose husbands or boyfriends have "tempers" - can watch this film and still not see the light, nothing will ever make them see. A triumph for Anjelica Huston, as well as for her cast. Is "Bastard Out of Carolina" a disturbing film? Absolutely. Is it at times graphic, even horrifying? No question. But it is also a fine piece of filmmaking, and something any true film lover should see.
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Disturbing but worthwhile
agbwillow7 September 2006
This is an often shocking but necessary film about a young girl called Bone and the abuse she suffers at the hands of her stepfather, Daddy Glen. The film is hard to watch at times but there are lighter moments when Bone's extended family are on screen. The book contains a much wider scope and naturally many of these subplots didn't make it into the screenplay. Ultimately, the film feels a little rushed and could have benefited from another half hour or so.

The quality of the acting is patchy. Lyle Lovett's delivery of his few lines of dialogue is very wooden compared to Michael Rooker's excellent portrayal of gentle giant Earl. Jena Malone does a brilliant job in obviously difficult circumstances as young Bone. The look in her eyes breaks your heart whenever things are about to turn violent, making you want to rescue her yourself. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fine as Bone's mother but you feel like you never really get to see beneath the surface of her determined expression to understand her motives for standing by her man in the face of Glen's obvious resentment of her daughter.

Ron Eldard is excellent in his depiction Glen, expertly capturing the character's pathetic childishness behind those icy blue eyes. Eldard often seems to play characters with a dark side and this role plays to his strengths, even if his southern accent slips from time to time. His scenes of violence with Bone are harrowing to watch and you can't help but feel uncomfortable, given the age of Jena Malone at the time. I know it's 'only acting' but the scenes are very realistic and graphic for a young actress to endure.

The film is one that ought to be shown to any single mother tempted to jump into a relationship with a hot-headed young man with questionable intentions.
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The Gryphon3 November 2000
I just finished watching this movie again for the third time in the last two days. Each time I watch it I discover something I missed in the previous viewing. There are no wasted lines or scenes. It is a powerful 1996 movie with excellent performances, dealing with the touchy subject of child abuse.

Anjelica Huston is the director and this is her first attempt at directing a feature length movie. The results are stunning. It is altogether a flawless movie, with an excellent script based on the Dorothy Allison novel, and stars Jena Malone as the young protagonist. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in the tough role of the mother torn between the choices she faces in loving both her daughter and the abusive stepfather. Many times throughout the movie I sat on the edge of my seat stunned by the action happening onscreen. It is not a movie with pat answers and predictable solutions, but manages to show the complexities involved in each situation. There are no cardboard characters either, as in real life not everyone is totally good or evil, though their actions may dip into either category from time to time.

The most compelling performance, in a film loaded with excellent acting, comes from young Malone, who commands a role that many adult actresses would no doubt have trouble handling. Her face tells a thousand stories with each shot giving a multi-leveled meaning to the deeper motivations that lie within her character.

After the credits Glenne Headly provides further information about the subject and a child abuse hotline number, which is a great addition to a film of this sort. It is not "entertainment" per se, but more along the lines of an informational public service. The symptoms of child abuse are highlighted throughout the movie and the effect of everyone's participation documented as fair warning to the viewer.

I can't praise this movie enough. A film like this raises my awareness and compassion level and makes me want to reach out to help in any way I can. It exceeds expectations in just about every way imaginable.
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Jena Malone's superb performance near perfection
ancient-andean28 September 2000
Knowing that the movie deals with the multiple abuse of a young girl, I first read a long interview with Jena Malone, who plays 10 year old Bones, about her role in the movie and the relationship with both her mother and the film crew. I was assured that she is a strong girl and understood the role she played.

When she was little Bones' own daddy swings her around and around in a beautiful scene by a lake. There are sparkles on the water and in her eyes. But tragedy takes her daddy away, and for, what must have been a few years, she sits in the back of her car cuddling her little sister and waiting for her mother to get off shift at the cafe she worked at. Her mom gets married to a man who is pathetic, and at the same time angry, violent and ultimately a monster of cruelty to little Bones. Early on, he sexually abuses her in the car as they wait outside the hospital for her mother to give birth. Jena Malone played her part to perfection. Her pain, crooked smile, perfect cracker accent, defiance and fear drilled itself into my heart. I could feel her hopelessness and at the same time the flashes of joy when she was free to sing, as well as the love and protection she felt for her little sister.

The relationships between the characters were fully developed. While I cheered when Bones' stepfather was beat up, I still had a hard time hating him as much as I should. Bones' mother, although a sympathetic character who loved her babies, I may not forgive, at least from the time she carried Bones out of the hospital.

Altogether a ten star movie.
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Deeply disturbing with highly intense performances.
Club Kid3 September 2002
"Bastard Out of Carolina" is by far the most disturbing film I have ever seen. At the same time, it is one of the finest films to be made in history. Words cannot explain how deeply this film affected me, I couldn't move when the credits rolled up, I could do nothing but think about what I had just seen. The performances here are nothing but astonishing. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a wonderful, heart-felt performance, and at times you just want to slap her and say "wake up!". The greatest performance in this film though is by Jena Malone. Wow, I've never seen such an intense performance by any actress let alone a child actress.

All in all, a great film. *****/out of 5
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Deep, Dark Film!
jerfitz18 February 2005
Not for the Squeamish! It deals with sexual abuse of children. I saw an interview with Jenna Malone and she was emphatic to re-assure people that she was not herself abused during this film, she got along very well with Ron Eldard, and that she understood that it was acting, etc. I'll bet that some actors turned down the role, given the subject matter. From a standpoint of dealing with the subject matter honestly the director Angelica Huston pulled no punches. There's a haunting scene where Eldard was sitting in a car with Jena on his lap and he abuses her - I'm sure it was a very difficult scene to film! But it's a "must see" for the realistic portrayal of a true story.
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A classic
gkearns8 April 2000
Sure, it's imperfect, but then so are most classics. "It's a Wonderful Life" is loaded with stereotypes, banalities, and over-acting. "Casablanca" features trite dialog, and the characters of Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman seem pretty wishy-washy for supposed heroes. "Bastard" is a biographical tale. Biographies often are episodic and lack continuity just as real life is episodic and lacks continuity. Biographical dialog is sometimes unimaginative because it reflects real life speech; none of us has a professional writer feeding us our lines. However, what "Bastard" does have are unforgettable scenes and images of profound emotional impact, a gritty set of down-home characters presented with gutsy reality by a superlative cast, and Jena Malone. Actually, Miss Malone has relatively few lines in this movie, but her expressive face, and especially her fantastic eyes speak clearly and powerfully from the depths of her heart in every scene. And the lines she does speak stab into our hearts with deadly accuracy. A memorable performance in a memorable movie.
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A daring, brilliant masterpiece
MovieLuvaMatt26 June 2003
I just watched this movie in my Advanced Developmental Psychology class, and I was blown away by it. Naturally, the professor warned us that the film contained some very graphic scenes, as it certainly did. There were moments where I absolutely could not look up at the screen. The film is wonderfully directed (by Anjelica Huston) and acted. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives one of the best performances of her career. She's one of those actresses who has talent and I have nothing against her, but rarely do I find myself raving about her performances. Here, she's given a genuinely challenging role, as she has to be both disturbed by her new husband's abuse towards her daughter, yet at the same time deeply in love with him. My class is predominantly female, so most of the girls were groaning and yelling out things like "You're stupid!" when she kept deciding to get back with the creep. But it's easy to say that while you're sitting on your butt looking at a TV screen. Tons of women get into relationships with abusive husbands, and guys who treat them like crap, and how many of them actually get out of those relationships? Love is a strange, strange thing. There's no way to explain it. But I didn't feel it was in any way inaccurate for Leigh's character to keep wanting to get back with Ron Eldard.

I know Eldard from his role on the cancelled sitcom "Men Behaving Badly" and his supporting roles in films like "Sleepers" and "The Last Supper." Prior to this movie, I would've never envisioned him in this sort of role, as I didn't really think of him as a daring, intense actor. I would envision an actor like Ray Liotta or James Woods in this sort of role. But I think Eldard's apparent naivete really gives dimension to this role. He doesn't in any way appear like someone who would act abusive towards anyone, as it usually turns out in real life. He also plays the character with a certain charm, which gives us some insight into why Leigh decided to stay with him. Of course, he never gets a handle on the Carolina accent (at times even sounding like an Englishman, as he struggles so hard), but as I got more and more into the film, I barely paid attention to the flaws in his accent. After watching this film, I will definitely look at Eldard much differently, as much more than the fun-loving buddy of Rob Schneider on "Men Behaving Badly" (a show I used to watch pretty frequently).

The cast is also composed of fine character actors, like Glenne Headley and Michael Rooker--who's absolutely terrific as Leigh's short-fused brother. Of course, that isn't an unusual role for him, but he plays it very well and packs a great dramatic punch in this performance especially. Jena Malone shows why she grew up to star in big films like "Stepmom" and "For Love of the Game." Even at this age, she is fully convincing as a tortured young girl. I just kept on wondering what the director gave her as motivation for her different emotions, since I'm guessing they couldn't outwardly address the issues or rape and abuse to a girl of her age.

The film contains some of the most disturbing scenes in American cinema (I stress the word "American," because I've seen more graphic rape scenes in foreign films like "The Bandit Queen" and "Pixote"), so even those with stomachs of steel should beware. But how many films you watch really get you talking and thinking, and send you an emotional journey--without using cheap shots? I don't have A.D.D. or anything, but rarely do I get so lost in a film that my attention never drifts and I never take time to look at my watch. This is one of those rare powerful, touching films that I will never forget!

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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A Favourite
loumcp18 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This was a terrific film that explored painful subject matter and did it well. The creeping malice and cowardice of Glenn (a brave role for Ron Eldard) was terrifying and will be recognized as realistic by any survivor of child abuse, as will Bone's sense of isolation and responsibility for "keeping the peace." The women in the film acted their roles with real strength and tenderness - particularly, I thought, Glenne Headly as Aunt Ruth. Jena Malone was a natural. I also loved Grace Zabriskie as Grandma. Displaying the lives of people commonly labeled "poor white trash" could have gone horribly wrong, but "Bastard" doesn't patronize or demean.

One wishes that those who made hay about the brutal child-rape scene in this film would devote this energy to protesting the actual occurrence of such things. The graphic nature of this scene was disturbing, to be sure, but not gratuitous or exploitative.

A worthwhile rendering of Dorothy Allison's semi-autobiographical novel.
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Messy Southern Gothic with too many characters and a lumpy narrative...
moonspinner5513 May 2008
Anjelica Huston, an unequivocally wise and intuitive actress, takes on a dark, rambling Southern tale for her first directorial effort, an adaptation of Dorothy Allison's book with so many peaks and valleys it plays like a chopped up TV mini-series, the CliffsNotes version. Story centers on an illegitimate young girl (Jena Malone) in the South during the 1950s and her woebegone waitress-mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has had terrible luck with men. Seems her third husband (Ron Eldard) has a violent streak when provoked, and when he begins lashing out at the child in both violent and sexual ways, relatives step in to help her. Rare to find a cast so full of solid acting talent, yet this script takes great pains to introduce characters without giving them anything to do (some of the relatives, like the uptown cousin played by Christina Ricci or Dermot Mulroney's doomed Husband #2, appear and disappear in record time). The central performances are fine, with pre-teen Malone doing some very nice work; a child actress with a solemn reserve and faraway eyes, Malone is perhaps too studied in her approach (she isn't an untrained natural), yet Huston handles her gently and some of the strongest moments are the ones where Malone is allowed to take a breath and emote. However, this film, a failed theatrical effort which was sold instead to cable television, is packed (or padded, as it were) with short-hand tragedy, and the editing is so poor and the narrative so confusing you might need a scorecard to keep up with all the melodrama. Despite her sensitivity in staging some shattering scenes, Huston doesn't allow the picture to flow, to absorb the audience. It's jagged and piqued, and one recoils from it instead of being drawn into the plot. ** from ****
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binasings23 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I just finished watching this movie five minutes ago and I am disgusted! At the beginning, you feel sorry for Annie, especially the part when she's at her husband's funeral with her two daughter, but all that sympathy disappears in a flash! I think that Annie is as much as a monster as her husband! At first she does try to provide and protect both of her daughters but than, she becomes a fool in love; A REALLY BIG ONE! I don't believe how could she allow a monster to abuse her own flesh and blood like that! When I was watching this, I kept thinking "what if he's doing it to her other daughter!?" I was disturbed while I watched every scene that Bone endured every type of abuse. The part that made me choke up was when Annie found Bone being rape by her crazy husband. I was appalled at the fact that after she saw it with her own two eyes, Annie choose that low-life over her daughter.

Angelica Huston did a wonderful job as director by keeping the scenes realistic (I know I was yelling at the T.V. in Spanish and English). The actress who portrayed Boone (sorry I forgot her name) did an amazing job at bringing life into that character. She evoked sympathy from the audience and made you want to just save her from her misery. The actor who played her abusive step-father did an excellent job at portraying a monster. My favorite part was when all of Bone's uncles beat up the step-father at her aunt's funeral!

Overall, I gave this movie an 8/10.

If your gonna watch this be prepared to go through a cycle of emotions, pretty much all of them-don't forget the box of tissues!
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Disturbing, Realistic and Heartbreaking
Darkest_Rose15 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Bastard Out Of Carolina is one of those movies that make you want to turn it off because what your seeing on screen is just so disturbing and horrible but you can't turn it off because your hoping that the movie will have a happy ending. Anyways, the story is about a young girl named Bone(Jena Malone) being constantly molested and beaten up by her horrifying stepfather. It is just so heartbreaking to see, what this little girl had to go through each day. Like many people here said, you just want to reach into your television and take the child away. I really hated her mother(Jennifer Jason Leigh) who didn't care what happened to Bone because she loved her new husband too much. I would give Bastard Out Of Carolina 8/10.
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Not as good as you've been made to believe.
carrjeremy22 August 2002
An excellent cast who do their best with an awful script, inept direction, and some of the worst score that I have ever heard. More TV movie of the week than serious drama. Which is sad when one considers that the source material is very serious and very real. The film makers decided that instead of building drama and character, it was better to just show the most graphic and violent bits and hope that the audience would be shocked into sympathy and caring. In my opinion, one the most blatant forms of cut and paste film adapting.
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The child rape scenes are GRATUITOUS
jeffsepu6827 January 2001
They could have told this story so much more effectively without the graphic incest/rape scenes. It was a very powerful film, but why, oh WHY did they have to show the graphic rape scene??? It completely RUINED a very important film. Would someone PLEASE explain?
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Extremely Down to Earth Film about Child Abuse!
whpratt13 September 2003
This film clearly showed that Child Abuse must be stopped as soon as possible when the slightest indication appears in a family, NO MATTER WHO IT IS!! The director pulled no punches in showing the horrible effects it has on the young and throughout their entire life time. A grandmother asked Jena Malone(Ruth Ann "Bone" Boatwright if her step-father Ron Eldard (Glen Waddell) " Ghost Ship",'02 touched her in anyway improperly and the poor child froze from fear. Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anney Boatwright)"In the Cut" '03 allowed the beatings and finally realized what was happening to her child, a bit too late. Even Lyle Lovett (Wade)had a chance to give Glen Waddell what he rightly deserved. This was a rather painful film to watch and not really enjoyable, but it had a very CLEAR MESSAGE!!
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Unnecessarily praised.
aslowriot14 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This film delves deeply into the subject of child abuse. Jena Malone's character, Bone, is a young girl who suffers through horrific acts of violence perpetrated by her mother's husband who is not her paternal father. The depravity of the film spans beyond the child abuse it features. Despite the remarkable cast and their outstanding performances, the film raises issues which it never confronts or resolves. The film is nothing more than a portrait of a despicable life, without any hope or resolution to be found within the context. Simply put, a daughter suffers immense cruelty at the hands of her mother's husband, and rather than fight for the maternal bond between mother and daughter, the mother decides to abandon her daughter for the love she finds from her husband who has abused her daughter. This film hardly even rises to the level of a documentary, in which case you might expect the depiction of depravity to be senseless and obscene. Instead the film raises a litany of questions for which it offers no answers. Why does the mother continually disregard the abuse she is fully aware her daughter is suffering at the hands of her husband? Does the mother have any concern for the chances of her younger daughter being subjected to the same abuse from her husband? Is severing the relationship between both daughters to be considered healthy? Is abandoning her abused daughter the mother's misconceived idea as to how to make amends? What is accomplished or signified by the abused daughter's refusal to name her abuser, purely out of inescapable love for her mother who doesn't protect her? How does the abused and then abandoned daughter relate to the world around her and how will she in the future? With utmost respect to the acting talents of the cast, the few undeveloped phrases that are stated, which one hopes will provide insight into the questions raised by the film, fail to suffice in properly addressing the base topics depicted. One could easily glean from a department of children and families case file the same pain, revulsion, and sorrow this film presents. Quite disappointing, but highly recommended to those film viewers who enjoy or are satisfied with dismal portrayals of tragedy which offer nothing in the way of redemption or adequate depiction of the subject matter at hand.
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The Daughter's Revenge
tedg4 January 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Angelica Huston is the rare child of the film business who really does have talent. That talent, a cinematic poise and a grand frame destined her to be somebody important. But her work has been infrequent and often quirky.

One imagines that life is difficult for people whose future is thrust upon them by their father, not by his will but by his unintended, marginally controlled passion.

So what we end up with is straight ahead hard stuff developed in a straight ahead hard stuff manner, without art in the narrative, the blocking, the cinematography -- just as if it were done by the characters.

All is invested in the three leads, their passion and emotions. They do well enough, but since there is no environmental support, each is a solo. Malone is the noticable one because of her age, but I think the real star here is Ms Leigh because she is the only one with an inner drama. The others can relax into single dimensions.
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sandspider111 June 2004
I have wanted to see this film for a long time due to the controversy and critical acclaim and I was not disappointed. The acting is superb especially from Jena Malone who did an amazing job. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rooker and Ron Eldard were also very good. Even though the subject matter is disturbing the story should be told because this is what happens in the world we live in. I strongly recommend this film although as many people have said it is very disturbing, nonetheless this important film should be seen. The book is supposed to be better and although I can't compare the film should be seen. Well done Angelica Huston!!

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Best Cast Ever in One Film
gavin694226 May 2016
Difficult tale of poor, struggling South Carolinian mother & daughter, who each face painful choices with their resolve and pride. Bone, the eldest daughter, and Anney her tired mother, grow both closer and farther apart: Anney sees Glen as her last chance.

I gave this film a high rating simply because of the cast. Michael Rooker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jena Malone, Christina Ricci... that already has me in 100% no matter what the film is.

But, of course, this is also a really good movie. I hear it is controversial and some places had it banned and others have called for the director to be arrested. Maybe I didn't see the same film you did, because the one I saw was a realistic condemnation of child abuse, and that should be applauded.
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What a phenomenal performer!!
ColleenEdgington26 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have watched the Lifetime TV movie "Bastard out of Carolina" several times and have been amazed at the depth that this character Bone is portrayed and the talent needed to carry off such a role. Her depth as an actress is remarkable not only for her talent for her talent at such a tender age. I have often thought that the actress must have been very strong to do such a 'dark' role like she does. Ms. Malone's portrayal of a young girl that perserveres through the loss of a loving father and multiform abuse of a stepfather while still being able to love and have a hope that shines through. Too many movies lack depth of storyline or character but I really do enjoy watching this movie over and over again. My very best to Jena Malone on her career.
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Every Person Should See This Movie At Least Once!
jynx18 April 2001
If there was ever a movie that could raise people's awareness about child abuse it's this one. This is a very powerful movie and no-one could fail to be changed by watching it.

The performance's by the whole cast is excellent and I congratulate Angelica Houston for bringing this 'swept under the carpet" subject out into the open where it belongs.
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It will rip your heart out!
KrazeyDazey19 February 2002
This movie is shocking and disturbing...but mostly because it is realistic. You will watch in horror and disgust, but won't be able to pull your eyes away. Child abuse is a hideous crime and this shows us all too well that. Jena Malone is stunning and will most likely rip your heart out. A must see! Rating: 10
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Child abuse spiced with a stupid mother
awender9 November 2002
This is just a usual tale how a deeply stupid, dumb, senseless mother spoils the entire life of her daughter. The same story could be told in any part of the world. Oh yes, and be prepared to have your heart and soul tormented throughout the film.
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Not impressed...
Jenn-4413 August 1999
I thought this film was rather weak. While the performance rendered by Jena Malone (Bone) was heartbreaking and painful, the rest of the film fell short of being anywhere near an "8" (as reflected by the IMDb vote). I felt the characters were stereotypical and unconvincing. Furthermore, the subject matter was approached with a very narrow viewpoint, and I found the violence to be rather gratuitous. Overall, the film left me unsatisfied; not because of the uncomfortable theme, but because the acting was inadequate, the characters were flat, and the film appealed to it's audience on a purely emotional level through excessive and disturbing images.
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Incredibly disturbing
preppy-314 September 2012
Story takes place in (I'm guessing) the 1930s in the deep south. Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is an unwed mother with two girls the oldest being Ruthann (Jena Malone). She meets handsome lively Glen (Ron Eldard) and marries him. But Glen has a bad temper and beats Ruthann regularly. Her mother doesn't know it and Glen keeps getting angrier and angrier.

VERY disturbing but well-done movie. The actors all fake authentic Southern accents and it captures the era perfectly. The acting is just incredible. Leigh was just letter perfect as the mother. She does love her girls and her husband and is horrified when she realizes what's going on. Eldard was a little one-note in his performance but that was mostly cause the script didn't really explore his character. He was downright terrifying when he loses control a few times. Malone was only 10 when she did this and she was incredible! VERY talented for such a young child and holds her own especially in downright horrific sequence at the end. Even the supporting roles were well-acted with Michael Rooker and Glenne Headly being standouts. Also it's all narrated by Laura Dern. As for the beatings--they're never really shown until the very end. You HEAR them though and that's bad enough. The acting is so good by Malone and Eldard you believe every second of them.

One complaint--the movie feels unfinished. It looks like either a lot was cut out of the script or out of the movie. Some scenes come and go quickly and have characters you've never met. Still this is well worth watching...but it is disturbing (as it should be) and powerful.
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