On rare occasions a film comes along that is so unique, so incredibly different from the pack that it immediately captures the imagination of critics and audiences alike. Often what people respond is a moment presented in the film that sets the stage well enough to keep you riveted to the screen. Many that follow may try to utilize what is shown but fail having been lost in the shadow of the original. One film that fits into this category is the 1996 classic drama, ‘Sling Blade’. This is exactly the kind of movie that helps to demonstrate why we need independent films to expand the art of cinema. This is not the type of movie that most mainstream, studios would consider backing financially since the prospect for a return on their investment is slim. The film cost under $900 to make and only brought in a fraction of that in box office revenues. While it is true that producing movies is a business some time you have to let the art form win out. With ‘Sling Blade’ it was well worth it. This film was a platform for some of the most emotionally intense and powerful performs seen in a very long time. The film has been out on DVD almost since that format has been around, 1998 but now Miramax has released a collector’s edition featuring a slew of extras and the director’s cut of the movie. This new edition is available in both standard DVD and high definition Blu-ray. If you have overlooked adding this pivotal film to your collection don’t let this opportunity go by. If you are into intense drama it is a must have.
This is the vehicle that brought Billy Bob Thornton to the attention of the American public. He wrote the script based on his play ‘Some Folks call it a Sling Blade which was made into a short form prior to its expansion into the theatrical and subsequently the ‘Director’s version in this new release. Thornton also directed and starred in the movie winning an Academy Award for best screenplay from another media and a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Considering this was his freshman effort in most of these fields it is certainly quite a memorable way to make s start in the industry. Thornton has turned out to be a bit of a renaissance man with a film career transcending genres from farce to adventure. In recent years he has returned to his musical roots and has been touring with his country music band.
Karl Childers (Thornton) is a mentally challenged man who has spent the majority of his life confined to Arkansas State Hospital for the criminally insane. The commitment was State mandated as a result of Karl’s murdering his mother and her lover. He was only nine when Karl walked on then and stabbed them to death. The murder weapon was a kaiser blade; a long handled blade commonly used to clear brush. As Karl notes in his grunting manner of speech it is also referred to as a sling blade. In an interview with a college student Karl places his crime into perspective. When he walked in on the couple he thought the man was raping his mother. When he discovered she was willing he turned his rage on her as well. Eventually he comes up for review he states that he can’t see a repeat of those circumstances occurring again he can’t see himself killing again.
Karl has always been mechanically inclined so upon his release he finds work in a repair shop back in his hometown. There he becomes friends with a local boy, Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black). Frank later brings Karl to meet his mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday) and despite reservations lets Karl stay in their garage. This concern is shared by Linda’s friend and boss, Vaughan (John Ritter). Vaughan winds up bonding with Karl since as a gay man he faces the same ostracism from society as a mentally challenged man. In a poignant scene it becomes clear that Frank regards Karl as a surrogate father and that his real father abandoned him and his mother by committing suicide. Karl, being closer in mental age to Frank relates to the boy more as a brother. Eventually Karl opens up to the boy about some extreme emotional abuse his parents inflicted on him when he was very young. Linda is in a very abusive relationship with her boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) who focuses his mean streak on Frank and Karl, things intensifies when Doyle plans to move in pushing Frank out in the process.
There was a very good reason why this performance put Thornton on the map; he was brilliant in it. When the movie first came out most people concentrated on the vocal affectation he brought to the plate. What the added clarity of this high definition release makes evident is just what a complete transformation he underwent. His body language is stiff and purposeful; there s subtle changes to his facial muscles and general affect.
Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood