Actor, writer and director Billy Bob Thornton has created a sharply
perceptive film entitled 'Sling Blade'. A mentally retarted, middle
aged man named Carl (Billy Bob Thornton) is released from a mental
institution where he was sent as a young boy for murdering his mother
and her lover after catching them red handed at commiting adultery.
The film begins with the surroundings of the institution where Carl
mingles with other patients of the asylum and grants an interview with
the assistance of his doctor to a young girl writing for her school
newspaper. There is a monlogue of eerie dialogue in which the camera
doesn't cut away for quite sometime as Carl is speaking which instantly
develops his character quickly, drawing the audience in and making Carl
a strong protagonist.
Carl is due for release a short time later, and tells his doctor that
the hospital is all he's ever known and that he wants to stay. The
kindness shown by his doctor helps Carl greatly as he lands a job
fixing small engines for farm and gardening equipment at a local shop
and Carl befriends a young boy during the process of his release and
comes to find that the boy's mother is involved in a relationship with
an abusive man (Dwight Yokum). His mother's best friend is the manager
of a supermarket (John Ritter --- yes, that's right, Jack Tripper from
'Three's Company' and barely recognizable with Buddy Holly glasses and
a weird hairdo) who is a homosexual and this is where 'Sling Blade'
becomes important and symbolic.
The underlying message of this movie is tolerance and acceptance of
those in our society and Thornton has directed the film with a quiet
sense of maturity and surprising sensitivity. There are moments in the
film of conflict and tension in which Carl is present but doesn't
participate yet Thornton acts it out as if Carl understands all the
while exactly what is going on but is powerless to do anything. There
is wonderful use of the music score in 'Sling Blade' as a lot of the
quiet and tender moments are blended together with soft tones of
musical riffs which are barely audible at time but enhance the scenes
they're in greatly and it's still hard to believe that in an age where
the average film can cost thirty to forty million dollars to produce
that Thornton had this one made for only one million dollars.
'Sling Blade' has earned Thornton 1997 Oscar nominations for Best Actor
and Best Screenplay Adaptaion and they are nominations that are more
than deserving and Thornton has established himself as a talented force
to be associated with and the studios ought to take note of this man
whose 'Sling Blade' will be a gem talked about for years to come.
Copyright © 1997 Walter Frith