“Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a kaiser blade.”
Billy Bob Thornton as Karl
I saw this film in the theater in 1996 when it opened and really liked it. Billy Bob Thornton would go on to get nominated for an Oscar for his performance and win an Oscar for his screenplay. Revisiting the film now, would I enjoy it as much? Sling Blade was recently released on Blu Ray by Miramax
The film opens as Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is released from a mental institution after spending 20 years of his life there. Karl was sentenced to the institution after killing his mother and her lover. Karl is mildly mentally retarded and misunderstood and thought his mother was being hurt.
So, onto the rural streets springs Karl. It isn’t long before he befriends a young boy named Frank (Lucas Black), who isn’t judgemental about Karl’s odd speech or strange mannerism. They both accept each other for exactly who they are at this moment in their lives.
Karl finds work in a local repair shop and he moves into Frank and his mother Linda’s garage. Frank and Linda grow very close to Karl in a short amount of time. Linda’s boss Vaughn (John Ritter), a gay man struggling to keep his personal life private in a gossiping small town is hesitant at first meeting Karl, not sure of his motives or his past. But, is soon reassured of Karl’s intentions and comes to care about him as much as he cares about Linda and Frank. They all become a sort of “family”.
This is upsetting news to Linda’s redneck boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam), a closed minded and violent individual. He doesn’t accept Frank because he is another man’s son, he doesn’t accept Vaughn because of his “lifestyle” and he doesn’t accept Karl because of his challenges. He wants all of them out of Linda’s life so he can control her.
The tension builds as the story progress and Karl is going to have to make a difficult choice: stay with Frank and his new family and protect them from Doyle, risking a return to the mental hospital he hated or watch out for himself and begin again somewhere new.
The direction, writing and performance by Billy Bob Thornton is emotionally raw, visceral and wonderfully nuanced. John Ritter turns in a surprisingly aware performance as a gay man struggling to navigate the turbulent waters of acceptance in a small town.
Another surprising performance is that of Dwight Yoakam, who brings real menace and hate to the character of Doyle.
Lucas Black and Linda Canerday also turn in absolute truthful performances. So many involved in the film are actual southerners (Black, Thornton, Canerday) , so they bring authentic accents and demeanor to their performances. They understand the “type” of characters they are playing and the area the film and story is set in.
So, if you somehow missed this powerhouse film upon its initial release, now is the time to play “catch up”.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the film is presented in 1080p. The transfer is first rate and wonderfully presented in the Blu Ray format. The overall image is vibrant, crisp and highly detailed.
Presented in DTS-HD Audio, the film has never sounded better. The dialogue is crystal clear and well mixed.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Presented in a standard amaray Blu Ray case, the understated artwork suits the film presented well.
A virtual plethora of bonus features await your perusal on this release. First up, a commentary with Billy Bob Thornton is an entertaining listen and worth your time.
Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood is a 67 minute documentary detailing the struggle to bring the story to the big screen. Interesting interviews with cast and crew make this a worthwhile featurette.
Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton is a profile of the actor filmed by the channel in 2000.
A Roundtable Discussion with Thornton, Yoakam, Mickey Jones and producer David Bushell is presented.
A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall is also presented. A Conversation with Robert Duvall is also offered.
Composer and musician Daniel Lanois participates in a conversation with Thornton as well.
On the Set presents some behind the scenes footage, actors preparing for their performances and Dwight Yoakam preparing for the “band” scene in the film.
The Return of Karl is an on set improve performed by Thornton and rounding things out is a scene that was removed from the final cut of the film. If I include the name of this cut scene in this review, it will spoil the film if you haven’t seen it so I am not going to do it. Cinegeek doesn’t do spoilers.
Overall (Not an Average) 9.5/10
The Movie 10/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 10/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9.5/10