Anjelica Huston's directorial debut employs an impressive cast, and at times showcases a promising sense of style. But Bastard Out Of Carolina seems hollow at its center, due largely to the fact that Anne Meredith's screenplay doesn't make very good use of its source material. Bastard is the story of Jennifer Jason Leigh's illegitimate daughter, who is born into someone's nightmare vision of the American rural south. Surrounded by violence and maladjusted relatives, it's only a matter of time before mom gets hitched to Ron Eldard, a loser who subjects the girl to just about every form of physical and mental abuse you've ever seen portrayed in a child-abuse movie. Bastard's poignant ending hints effectively at the profound and ambiguous effects that the abused girl's terrible experiences have upon her identity, but until that point, Huston's repeated use of violence just seems ugly and numbing. It's appopriate that Eldard plays a monster, but as his character has been stereotypically conceived here, his relationships aren't worth the dramatic energy put into them. As a public-service announcement, Bastard Out Of Carolina works fine, but it should have been a better movie.

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