Sling Blade (1996) is an American drama film, starring, written, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton. It’s often known as Billy Bob Thornton’s most standout performance, the film also received an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The film is based off a short film Thornton made in 94 of roughly the same caliber. At it’s crux, Sling Blade is a film about tolerance and diversity in society, but also about the endearing tale of a boy who doesn’t have a father figure.
Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a mentally disabled man who’s spent most of his life in a mental hospital as he slaughtered his mother and her lover at the tender age of 12. Sling Blade at first is a story of Karl integrating himself into society, as he maintains a job fixing motors in a repair shop. However it quickly becomes about a relationship he cultivates with a young boy named Frank. Karl lives in their garage, being taken in by the boy’s mother, however the situation soon becomes uncomfortable as vicious and abusive boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakem) begins to harass Karl for it’s mental disability along with the boy. Karl soon becomes a father figure to Frank, who misses his own father ever since his suicide. Doyle commands Karl to leave their house, as he arranges for Frank and his mother to stay with her friend Vaughn (John Ritter). Karl goes into the house, sitting down with a sharpened lawnmower blade as Dole begins to insult him again. Karl calms asks how one would go about calling the police, before standing abruptly and carving Dole’s head in two with the blade. He calls the police and an ambulance, as the film ends the same way it begun, with Karl starring out the window of the mental hospital.
So, performances. I wouldn’t have thought Billy Bob Thornton was exactly the method acting type, but his performance as the mentally disabled Karl is quite fantastic. The physicality of the role, his hunch, how he wears his clothes with his jeans far past his stomach, not to mention the deep southern accent and vocal ramblings are superb. An excerpt from the emotional meeting between Karl, and his father Frank:
Frank Childers: I told you I ain’t got no boy, now why don’t you get on outta here and let me be. You ain’t no kin to me.
Karl: [after a pause] I learned to read some. I read the Bible quite a bit. I can’t understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it. Them stories you and Mama told me ain’t in there. You ought not done that to your boy. I studied on killing you. Studied on it quite a bit. But I reckon there ain’t no need for it if all you’re gonna do is sit there in that chair. You’ll be dead soon enough and the world ‘ll be shut of ya. You ought not killed my little brother, he should’ve had a chance to grow up. He woulda had fun some time.
The authenticity of the performance really carries the film. John Ritter as Vaughn is also very effective. Vaughn plays a homosexual man just trying to advance with his life, but he feels deep sympathy for Linda and her son, and refuses to let Doyle hurt her. In one scene Vaughn talks about intolerance in the southern states, and likens being homosexual to being mentally disabled in that they’re both ‘different’ and the subject of intense ridicule. Dwight Yoakem is also great as this arrogant, intolerable, southern racist. As a viewer I felt deeply saddened when Linda reconciled with him showing how effective he was in his loathing qualities. J.T Walsh as the sexual pervert at the beginning, and finish was also a nice touch, necessary to round out the fact that Karl had changed.
While the performances are superb, the opening scene in which Karl recalls his acts he committed linger throughout the film, along with the films obviously violent title. This makes the narrative events incredibly predictable as soon as we meet Doyle. As good as the script is it clearly forecasts this event, which I guess in some ways can’t be helped. The big question, or more accurately dilemma in Sling Blade, is murder ever justified? I’m not trying to imply that Doyle wasn’t an asshole, but was his impromptu death morally ethical? I think Sling Blade might have had more of a punch if we saw some reactions to what Karl did to Doyle, what his mother said about the whole scenario, or how they progress. There’s a good chance Linda could have met a another mean cruel man, just like Doyle.
Summary = Sling Blade is an impeccable film. Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoaken, and J.T Walsh’s performances in particular pack a lot of punch. Sling Blade is an unethical story, for an unethical world. The story is endearing at parts, but manages to maintain tension as the story winds down to it’s obvious, yet inevitable conclusion. That’s it for now, I highly recommend the emotionally stirring story that is Sling Blade, until next time please Like, Follow and Comment if you feel obliged, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. Thanks for your time.