Movie Reviews

Sling Blade

Sling Blade Poster

Sling Blade is one of those movies that when I say I haven’t seen it, everyone goes “You haven’t!?” So, now I no longer have to press my nose against the glass of the “Seen-Sling-Blade” club, I can now walk freely amongst the club members and toss around witty banter. Now that I’ve seen it, though, I see why people were addressing me as such, because it is an excellent film.

Billy Bob Thornton directed, wrote, and starred in this movie, which is really a hats off to him, because all three of those things were great. About an hour in was when I realized that the character of Karl was Billy Bob, that’s how good he was. Geoffrey Rush won the oscar over him for Shine, which I can see, otherwise I think Billy deserved it hands down. However, all the other acting in the movie is fantastic as well. Lucas Black, the kid, could have been a little stronger I think (which seems to be a case a lot of the times nowadays when Haley Joel Osmont is not the kid), but I’d take Lucas over Jake Lloyd any day. John Ritter also surprised me a lot too, since I had no idea he was in the movie, let alone that he would be playing a homosexual gas station owner, which made for an interesting character immediately. And I rarely dislike John Ritter since I saw Noises Off.

The story of Sling Blade starts in a mental hospital, where the character of Karl (Billy Bob) has spent several years after killing a local ass hole and his mother in the act with a kaiser blade (some folks call it a sling blade, we have a title), but he is in the process of being let go back into the world because he is “healed.” He heads back to his home town, although he has no idea what to do, because his Dad wants nothing to do with him and his mother’s dead. So he wanders around for a while, where he meets Frank (Lucas Black) at the laundromat. He instantly hits it off with Frank, and Frank eventually asks his mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), if Karl can stay in the garage, which she agrees to pretty easily if you ask me, but we soon discover that she’s dating a guy named Doyle Hargraves, who proves that letting a strange man stay in the garage is the least of her problems. From Doyle’s first line, we can figure out that he’s a total ass hole who is a little unstable too. Now this character could have been a very stereotypical drunk husband, but I thought Dwight Yoakam did an excellent job in keeping the character original, while still being a drunk husband, which have certain characteristics and that’s just the way life is. Well, events lead up to Karl making the decision that he’s going to kill Doyle to save Frank and Linda from all the distress that he has caused in their lives. This was a little predictable, but that’s probably because it was the point, so I won’t hold that against Billy (we’re on a first name basis). And, in case you’re wondering, John Ritter’s character, Vaughn Cunningham, is interspersed as Linda’s friend throughout the whole movie.

The movie’s very well done, because it’s not only poignant, but also beautiful to look at. The filming style is hard to explain, because I can’t really compare it to anything. The whole movie appeared to be humid though, if that makes sense. Humid is the only word I can think of to describe the filming and coloring style. In any case, it’s very interesting to look at, but the movie pays off to, as it not only shows us that heroes can come from unlikely places (which is a common theme with Billy Bob if you’ve ever seen The Gift), but also points out a lot about perception and preconceptions. Obviously there are lots of preconceptions that go along with mental retardation, such as assuming the character Karl can’t understand anything or that he rubs shit in his hair (which is one of Doyle’s lines), but there are tons of preconceptions around the homosexuality of Vaughn. Each of the characters have preconceptions about each other, Doyle embodying all of them. However, all the characters except Doyle are able to get around their preconceptions and understand or love each other (one of the last scenes where Karl talks to Vaughn and tells him to take care of Linda and Frank is amazingly touching).

The only complaint I have is that the whole mental hospital thing is kind of vague. What exactly do they do in there? Why would they think he’s healed?, he doesn’t really express regret. What happened when he killed Doyle? Did they just let him back into the hospital when he killed again? Surely there would be a more severe penalty. I’m not sure. That’s what isn’t exactly answered.

Overall, though I’d say thumbs up to Billy Bob Thornton and the cast for an excellent film that speaks not only now, but probably well down the road too, as long as domestic abuse exists. Well worth the two hours and $5 to rent.

Sling Blade Shot

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