Billy Bob Thornton wrote, directed, and starred in this mesmerizing drama with haunting overtones of To Kill a Mockingbird. Thornton plays a mentally retarded man who has spent 20 years in a psychiatric hospital for killin... more »g his mother and her lover. Released into the community from which he came, he befriends and protects a lonely boy regularly harassed and abused by his mom's boyfriend (a terrific performance by Dwight Yoakam). The story is ultimately about sacrifice, but Thornton certainly doesn't get twinkly about it. Some of the best material concerns the hero's no-big-deal efforts to integrate into a "normal" life: working, eating fast food, earning admiration for his handyman skills, and attaining a semblance of community among other damaged souls. John Ritter has a great part as a gay shopkeeper who tries to assuage his own loneliness by spilling his guts out to Thornton's uncomprehending character. --Tom Keogh« less
Larry N. from BEALETON, VA Reviewed on 1/14/2015...
I'm not a Billy Bob Thornton fan and I really didn't know what this movie was about. It's a must see! Not only did Billy Bob act in this, he wrote the story and directed the movie. A fantastic job done by all involved.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Dorothy M. from FEDERAL WAY, WA Reviewed on 2/19/2014...
As a rule, Billy Bob Thornton overacts. In this movie he did a wonderful job of containing that tendency, but at the same time letting you know that there was something bubbling and seething just under the surface of his character's mind. Sling Blade is one of the better movies that I have seen in 2014, in spite of being disturbing.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Ann M. Reviewed on 8/3/2011...
Powerful movie that raises difficult questions of guilt, accountability, vigilante-ism, and sacrifice. The main character was introduced in a mental institution at the start of the movie whom we learned had murdered his adulterous mother and his lover caught in the act out of a fit of childish rage and confusion. B/c of his mental state, he was sentenced to a mental institution, but then his time was up and he was released. Through the kindness of his warden/counselor, he was given a job fixing lawn equipment, which he proved to be high above-average, and befriended a lonely boy and his widowed mother. However, the peachiness of paradise was tainted by the cancerous presence of mom's violent boyfriend who was the epidome of the word "jerk." The man really deserved the boot from the wily and weak mother, but we wonder if he would leave peaceably. He was tempermental, selfish, manipulative, insulting and violent. What "good" mom see's in him is beyond everyone around her. As boyfriend's anagonism mounts and becomes clear to our main character that boyfriend needs to leave their lives for them to ever have peace and protect the boy who was probably the only true friend he'd ever had in his entire life. So main character makes the ultimate decision, even if it meant he would be separated from his young friend forever.
2 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
Living inside one's own heart
Shelley Gammon | Kaufman, Texas USA | 04/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With the parodies and jokes surrounding the lead character of this film stating, "I like the way you talk," I was not expecting this film to be anything I'd be impressed with. Boy, was I wrong. This a fantastic film.Billy Bob Thornton plays Karl Childers, a man about to be released from a mental hospital after staying there for 30 years. Karl killed his own mother and her lover when he was only about 12 years old and you wonder from the beginning of this film - why are they letting him out?Some people call him slow, some people say he's retarded - but as each scene comes and goes, you realize that there is a lot more going on inside Karl's head than anyone else believes.While autism is not mentioned by name in the film, it's obvious that this character was modeled after an autistic person. He does not maintain eye contact and rarely exhibits emotion or speaks.He returns to his childhood hometown after being released from the hospital and puts his mechanical skills to good use as a small engine wiz at a local mechanic shop.He befriends Frank (Lucas Black), a young boy who reminds Karl of the kind of life he could have had, if he had only had different parents. Frank's mother has a psycho for a boyfriend (masterfully played by Dwight Yoakum) who treats Frank and his mother like garbage and threatens to kill them if the relationship ever ends.Small town folks have big hearts, but sometimes small minds. Frank's mother (Natalie Camerday) has a best friend who is gay (well acted by John Ritter) and he must hide his relationships from the townsfolk. Her friend Vaughn wants to go to a a bigger city with wider acceptance of his lifestyle, but he continues to stay to act as a guardian angel for his friend and her son.As Karl meets and interacts with the new friends (and enemies) he meets, he reveals some of his darker secrets with his friend, Frank. While he shows almost no emotion, Karl's story evokes tears from all but the most stony-hearted viewer. He not only feels great pain of what he has experienced and what he has done, he feels great empathy for Frank and his mother and holds their friendship dear to his heart.There is violence in the film, but the most violent of scenes is just audible - nothing is seen, just heard. This film is too intense for young viewers, but teenagers should have no problem with it.This film really makes you think - about what goes on in the minds of those who are mentally different in any way - and how all emotions are universal."
A Cut Above the Rest
Shelley Gammon | 06/01/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We know well the visage of the desolate, decadent, sometimes lascivious Southern landscape from the works of William Faulkner and others. Not unlike Faulkner, Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade guides us guiltily toward the region's historical and modern undercurrents of social prejudices, ignored dysfunction, sought acceptance, and resulting violence. The film addresses a universal human condition, however, and not the region.The title of the film looms over the audience as Thornton urges fondness while successfully negotiating the fine line between our fear of, and affection for Karl Childers (Thornton), a recently released mental patient committed as a child for violently murdering his mother and her boyfriend. Sling Blade is a study in tension with thick suspense built through superior character development resulting in conflicts that escalate into deliberate, almost real-time rhythms. The story is one of need and moreover of acceptance, as the collection of limping characters, directly or not, seek it, and to some degree, with the help of Karl, attain it. The boy, Frank (Lucas Black), seeks the love of a father figure after the suicide of his own. Linda, the mother (Natalie Canderday), requires the general acceptance of her perceived role as a Southern woman, and subsequently the acceptance from a mate, which is evident in her destructive dependence upon her demonic, red-neck boyfriend, Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). Her own deep need renders her perhaps overly accepting of others, including Karl, whom most mothers wouldn't let within ten feet of there sons. Vaughn (John Ritter), like the others, seeks love, and on an outward scale, struggles with his half-open homosexuality in the small Southern town. Doyle, not unlike Linda, wants acceptance of his perceived role as a family head and wants to be loved as well, but lacks even the basic tools to a gain it. And finally Karl, the most dynamic character in the film, seeks acceptance only from himself as he works to garner love and to construct some semblance of a life within the limited bounds of his mental capacity, his stunted development, and his own set of morals.While the climax of the film is somewhat telegraphed, it is more inevitable than predictable, and the audience is left alone with the wonderment and self-examination over the questionable choice of a sympathetic character. From Sling Blade we leave with the unsolicited lesson that tenderness and brutality sometimes share the same origin."
Redneck auteur extraordinaire!
Jeffrey Few | Seattle, WA USA | 03/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A little-known fact: Billy Bob Thornton--star, director and writer of this amazing film--is the greatest southern voice since William Faulkner. This film is essential southern gothic retooled for the New South of mini-malls and subdivisions. The old demons still lurk, most graphically through Doyle (played remarkably by Dwight Yoakam). Watch for a cameo appearance from indie/y'allternative musician Vic Chesnutt! Besides being an incredibly important film about the South, it's emotional rollercoaster ride: from Carl (Thornton) and his shocking past, to the awkwardness of his first days away from institutionalization, to the amazing paternal relationship he forges with a neglected boy--the one person who will accept him unconditionally. Heart-wrenching, dark and beautiful."
Great Story, Tremendous Acting By Billy Bob Thornton
BookMania | Stafford, TX, USA | 01/01/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie won the Academy Award for best screenplay, and it's very easy to see why it was deserving of the acclaim that it received. The movie centers around Carl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton), a mentally retarded man who has just been released from a mental hospital after spending most of his life there. He's a convicted murderer who killed his own mother and her lover, but the audience is made to love him from the beginning and feel sympathy for his situation. He befriends a young boy named Frank who is being raised by a single mother who has an abusive boyfriend. The movie centers around the growing friendship between Carl and Frank, and how Carl decides to take matters into his own hands in order to protect Frank and his mother from the abusive boyfriend.The strength of this movie is in the acting job by Thornton. His character is a cross between Boo Radley from To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee) and Lenny from Of Mice And Men (by John Steinbeck). While the audience is suspicious of Carl at the beginning of the movie because of his history, we are quickly assured that he is extremely gentle and kind. Also of note is the performance by Dwight Yoakam as the abusive boyfriend. You'll really hate his character, which obviously means that Yoakam did a great acting job.Overall, this is an excellent movie. It's definitely worth seeing."
Excellent, big hearted film
J. Remington | Adams, Oregon USA | 09/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""That Frank, he lives inside of his own heart. That's an awful big place to live in."
So gravels Karl, Billy Bob Thornton's unique husky-voiced creation as he describes the inner character of his friend and surrogate son- the innocent and pure Frank. Thornton could easily use this line to describe the broad and embracing spirit of his award-winning 1996 directorial debut, the contemporary classic SLINGBLADE.
Originally released in the halcyon days of independent film-making, the bygone era known as the 90's, SLINGBLADE deftly and eerily combines the wholesome everyman small town ideals of a Norman Rockwell painting with the morbid Southern Gothic tone of William Faulkner's best prose.
Filming in and around his Arkansasian home town, Thornton pulls off a creative hat trick - expanding his one man play and short film into a feature length celebration of salvation through grace and atonement through blood as staged in the backwoods and clapboard houses of rural America.
As a Director, Thornton holds his camera in capricious long shots and expanded takes, allowing his characters to exist in an exaggerated time and space, thereby empowering his actors to explore the nuances of their shadowy lives and share freely of their expansive hearts. Yes all of these people have secrets- Thornton rarely saturates his frame with full light. Bands of shadow wash across every character. Everybody has flaws- potential for good and evil in equal measure- even the villainous Doyle Hargraves (deliciously played by country-western star Dwight Yokum), deserving of Book of Revelation retribution as any character in recent memory, has his moments of vulnerability. The tragic wide-eyed ten year old Frank (played without any cloying sentiment by Lucas Black) too is capable of sudden violence when defending his mother.
Thornton shows he trusts his actors. With his continual use of long unbroken takes, he doesn't artificially create performances through imposed editing. These actors embrace the loud silences and large spaces and time and, as a result, appear to truly and organically erupt in moments of joy, compassion, humor and rage- all in the gentle lilting brogue of a brown water Arkansas drawl. The ensemble cast, made up of professionals (John Ritter in a heart-breakingly humane and admirable performance) and locals (several non-actors appear in effective support), alike never fail to hold the camera's eye.
The film is violent, but tastefully so. The bloodiest moments are reserved for off camera-employing the audience's imaginations to create far more vibrant images than any camera could provide- a lesson too many of Thornton's contemporaries forgot. The most violent and jarring moments occur in Thornton's elliptical dialogue. He understands the power of word pictures. He also displays a brilliant ability to oscillate a scene from chilling to hilarious to tragic on a turn of a phrase.
And at the center of this dark fairy tale is Thornton himself, transformed completely into the character of Karl Childers- a middle aged man recently released from "the nervous hospital". A literary descendent of The Frankenstein Monster, Lennie Small, Forrest Gump and Boo Radley (brilliantly realized in one of filmdom's most obscure "in jokes"- Robert Duvall appears unbilled as Childers' father), Karl rubs his hands with Lady MacBeth syndrome in guilt. With his high-water pants and hunched-over gait, centering himself from the bottom of his chin and speaking in a growling and grunting exhale Childers lends himself to instant imitation. But what no imitator can ever capture is the calm benevolence lurking behind Thornton's brown eyes.
Thornton's Karl Childers is one of the greatest characters ever created for film. Like the fatherless Frank, the simple minded Childers is pure of heart and in a state of grace and yet he possesses a terrifying capacity for violence. For inside those loving and forgiving eyes lies too a direct portal into what Karl himself would call "Hades". He is simple sure. But he is not simplistic. His heart, like the story-world he lives in is "an awful big place to live in."