Spotlight
SLING BLADE
5 Stars
Picture from SlingbladeStars: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, John Ritter, Lucas Black, JT Walsh
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 2hrs 15mins
Opening Date: July 10

A gentle killer returns...

A largely unknown character actor since the early 1980s, Thornton won the Oscar last year for the screenplay of this terribly touching film. Adapted and opened out from his own one-man stage show, Sling Blade is a compassionate, finely observed character study of a simple man. Thornton, who previously won praise for his co-scripting duties on One False Move and A Family Thing, also makes a deeply impressive directorial début.
Interestingly, Sling Blade shares a number of factors with another outstanding independent American film just released here – Robert Duvall’s The Apostle. Both are award-winning character studies, both are written and directed by their star and both are set in America’s Deep South. They also happen to be projects developed by actors who are close friends. As a courtesy, Thornton took a cameo in Duvall’s film and Duvall (who seems to be in a film every other week at the moment) returns the favour here playing Childers’s estranged father.
Karl Childers (Thornton again) portrays the product of a dysfunctional Arkansas family and is committed to an asylum for the criminally insane after killing his mother and her lover with a sling blade. At the time of the murder Karl was just a boy and, as he saw it, felt he was doing the right thing. Now, after spending four years reading the Bible, he reveals, “I don’t reckon I’ve got any reason to kill anybody.”
Childers has been inside for 25 years and the time has come for him to be released and face the outside world – which will not be an easy task. Partially retarded, Karl spends a lot of his time “thinkin’ ‘bout things”, distractedly rubbing his hands together and answering others with his pet responses “right then” and “I reckon”.
Yet there’s much more to Karl than initially meets the eye. The man never seems to sleep, his clothes remain surprisingly unsoiled and he doesn’t even sweat. It’s as if, locked into the inner reaches of his own mind, he’s somehow above physical wear and tear. While the viewers’ sympathies may lie with Karl, the citizens of Arkansas are unlikely to accept a retarded killer in their midst without putting up a fight.
Prepare to be ineffably moved.

Sling Blade photo copyright Buena Vista
James Cameron-Wilson

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