← Back to Reviews

Sling Blade

Sling Blade
Billy Bob Thornton put himself on the Hollywood map in 1996 as the director, screenwriter, and star of a riveting motion picture drama called Sling Blade, an often chilling character study wrapped around a story of friendship and abuse that rings completely true, even if it is a tad overlong.

Based on a play (also written by Thornton), this is the story of Carl Childers, a mentally challenged man who murdered his mother and her lover when he was a child and has been institutionalized ever since. It is determined that adult Carl has been rehabilitated and is released from the hospital so he decides to return to his hometown. He manages to find a job as a mechanic and befriends a young boy named Frankie, who invites Carl home to live in the garage of the house where Frankie lives with his widowed mother, Linda and her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend, Doyle.

Billy Bob Thornton does an impressive job of adapting his play to the screen. His Oscar-winning screenplay methodically reveals Carl's troubled past and how it has impeded him in moving onto any kind of future. There's a telling and heartbreaking scene near the beginning of the film where Carl returns to the hospital after being released saying he wants to continue to live at the hospital because the world has gotten too "big." This scene absolutely made my heart sank.

Thornton's screenplay also takes an impressive path in its presentation of the reprehensible Doyle. The scene where he kicks all of the band members out of his house, even though it really isn't his house, was a perfect precursor to the kind of maniac that Doyle turns out to be, but best off all, is the lovely relationship that is established between Carl and Frankie. Despite the fact that Carl has been completely desensitized to any kind of emotion, we feel his connection to Frankie and know he will do anything for him.

Thornton's directorial eye is as sharp as his screenplay. He opens up the story so that it never looks like a photographed stage play and he creates some stunning cinematic pictures, like those shots of Carl on that rickety bridge, or the long shot of Carl and Frankie in the special spot in the dark. Or when Carl bursts into Linda and Doyle's bedroom with a hammer in his hand demanding to be baptized...I swear that scene made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

In addition to the Oscar he won for the screenplay, Thornton also received a Lead Actor nomination for his seemingly simple performance as Carl, which is a lot richer than it appears on the surface. Dwight Yoakam was robbed of a supporting nomination for dangerously unhinged performance as Doyle, a character Yoakam completely loses himself in. Also loved a seriously cast against type John Ritter as Linda's gay BFF and a star-making performance by 12 year old Lucas Black as Frankie. The middle of the film sags a bit because we know where the story is going and we want it to get there a little quicker than it does, but it's still riveting motion picture entertainment.