Sling Blade (1996)
Thornton writes, directs and stars in this feature length extrapolation
of his acclaimed 1994 short film ‘Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade.’
opens with the release of Karl Childers from the mental institution that
has been his home for the past 25 years. Thornton’s portrayal of Karl,
complete with deformed posture and guttural southern drawl, is as
convincing as it is bizarre. Initially we are disturbed by his
repetitive mannerisms and aversion to human contact. Our concerns grow
dramatically when we discover that he brutally slew his own mother.
However, such is Thornton’s appeal, that we are soon enchanted by this
seemingly harmless character that wants for nothing more than to tinker
with broken lawnmowers and enjoy regular servings of French fried
days of his release, Karl befriends a young boy named Frank (Lucas
Black) and his mother Linda (Natalie Canerday). Soon thereafter he
moves into the family home and begins to build a life for himself.
Linda’s boyfriend, the sinister Doyle, is brought to life by country
music icon Dwight Yoakam. Doyle’s achievements include intimidating
Linda and Frank and assaulting a wheelchair-bound friend. In a welcome
irony, he is also a guitarist in a laughably poor country and western
perhaps unrealistically, represents the only challenge that Karl must
face during his assimilation into society. The inevitability of their
conflict will enrich the film for some while diminishing it for others.
It permeates every scene (even those sans Doyle) and lends a much needed
edge to a film that occasionally drifts towards whimsy. Those yearning
for unexpected twists, however, will be sorely disappointed.
of ‘Sling Blade’ is an affectionate tribute to semi-rural life in the
American south. These southerners are portrayed as kind, generous and
progressive. The one character that demonstrates intolerance towards
homosexuals and the mentally disabled is well and truly cast in the role
of the villain. Is this an accurate portrayal of the south or an
indication of its aspirations? Regardless, it serves as an interesting
counterpoint to the stereotype.
Blade’ establishes Thornton as a powerful actor and storyteller. He won
an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for ‘Sling Blade,’ and it
could be argued that his acting is equally deserving of recognition.
The supporting cast are also excellent. J.T. Walsh in particular is
macabre as the sadistic murderer who attempts to befriend Karl while
virtual unknown Rick Dial is immensely entertaining as Karl’s affable
this tremendous yarn.
‘Sling Blade’ is a truly endearing film, the same cannot be said for the
additional features. The behind-the-scenes gestation of a low-budget
gem often makes for fascinating viewing. Unfortunately we’ll have to
make do with a theatrical trailer and a collection of nine completely
unenlightening production stills.