Compelling and extremely well-done.I saw this movie in my local art house theater the day after it won an Oscar. I was blown away.
Billy Bob Thornton is Karl Childers, a convicted killer (he killed his mother and her lover when discovered them when he was younger) set free from a mental hospital. He's a simple man with simple tastes (he likes "potted meat" and "french fried pertaters") with a gravelly voice and a wacky accent. He becomes friends with a local child named Frank(Lucas Black), his mother Linda (Natalie Canerday) and her employer (John Ritter), but is a little troubled by the mother's abusive boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). Eventually, there comes a point where Karl will have to make a decision about Doyle, and it won't be pretty.
Thornton delivers as Childers. The accent and dialect is the stuff of countless jokes, but the performance isn't. Childers is not a Gump. Childers is far more complex. He's aware that what he did, and in his own way, he's repentant about it ("I dont reckon I ain't got no reason to kill nobody," he says). It's a completely original performance of a completely original character, and it's quite memorable.
The supporting performances are just as strong. Yoakam is chilling and creepy as Doyle, a lazy bastard who only seems to sit around and drink beer after beer, criticizing his girlfriend and the boy. Especially the boy, which, of course, starts to bother Karl. Black is right cool as the young boy, complete with his own accent.
But for my money, you can't beat John Ritter and J.T. Walsh in the same movie. Walsh plays another inmate at the "nervous hospital" (as Childers calls it), who tells a chilling story. The role is small and not necessarily essential to the plot, but it still showcases the talents of a great character actor. As for Ritter, he's a long whay from Jack Tripper. As Vaughan, the homosexual grocery store manager, Ritter is perfect. Vaughan is comfortable with his sexuality, but he seems almost sorry for it, like he has to apologize to everyone about it. He's similar to Childers in that he knows Linda's in an abusive relationship, but he's sort of helpless, though not in the way Childers is.
The ending is a foregone conclusion, but still tense when it happens. Strong performances make this well worth the watch.Completely original. Definitely worth your time.