I can vividly recall the night I first saw Sling Blade. It was way back in 1996, and while my friends and I realized we had just seen a great movie, all we could focus on was Billy Bob Thornton’s voice. Every sentence we uttered ended with the gutteral clearing of the throat Thornton used in his portrayal of Karl Childers. And we never got tired of saying his famous line “I don’t reckon I got no reason to kill nobody.” Having just watched the film for the first time since that night 13 years ago, I’m shocked at how powerful the film actually is and genuinely surprised that I didn’t remember much beyond the voice.
Thornton’s depiction of Karl Childers was a revelation, and helped to make Thornton a household name. The character of Childers is a mentally challenged man, locked away in a mental institution for most of his life after killing two people as a child. One of them being his own mother. The film picks up on the day he is released back into the real world, a place he describes as “too big.” What follows is an emotionally riveting story of his friendship with a young boy named Frankie, Frankie’s mother Linda and her gay best friend Vaughan, played by the always terrific John Ritter. Adding a dark undercurrent to the film is Linda’s abusive boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves, played by Dwight Yoakam. It’s a terrifying performance that feels all too real.
This is a slow movie that really lets the audience immerse themselves in the world that Thornton created. As well as starring, he directed and wrote the screenplay. He really takes his time telling the story and lets the camera linger on the characters, reveling in the emotion on display. Although the film takes place in the present, it feels like a world long gone. It’s one of those places where everybody seems to know each other, and there is a simplicity that is missing from the modern world. Because things do move so slowly, the story feels epic and the inevitable outcome is completely earned.
The Blu-Ray itself has a lot of features, almost all focusing on Billy Bob Thornton. It seem pretty indulgent to have included so much material on himself, much of it having nothing to do with the film. There is a biography on Thornton that runs over an hour, a 43 minute Bravo profile on his body of work, a seven minute interview with Robert Duvall (who was barely in the film) about working with Thornton, etc. Probably the most interesting feature is a modern-day roundtable discussion with Thornton, Yoakam, Mickey Jones (who plays a small role in the film) and producer David Bushell. It runs an hour and 15 minutes, and is a pretty insightful look at what went on behind-the-scenes of the film. All are obviously close friends and it’s a very natural conversation.
Overall, the best feature of this set is the movie itself. The transfer looks good, but occasionally grainy, and doesn’t seem to be a huge improvement over previously released versions of the film. But if like me, all you remember from your first viewing is “french fried potaters,” it’s definitely worth visiting again. It may have become a pop-culture punchline, but there is a lot going on underneath the surface, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen the film with fresh eyes.