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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 25%
Average: 17.86%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 5.36%

3 reviews, 38 user ratings

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Sling Blade
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Good but overrated."
4 stars

'Sling Blade' is the kind of movie I wish I could recommend wholeheartedly.

On one level, it's another little-guy triumph like Big Night and Trees Lounge, in which an excellent actor decides to write and direct a small-scale vehicle for himself. In this case, the little guy is Billy Bob Thornton, already a proven screenwriting talent (he co-wrote One False Move a few years back) and now, like Stanley Tucci and Steve Buscemi, a generous director who favors long takes in which he and his fellow actors can set their own rhythms.

Bad news first, though. Sling Blade, which stars Thornton as kind-hearted, simple-minded Karl Childers (that name is pushing it a little), often plays more like a showcase for Thornton's undeniable acting chops than like a study of small-town Arkansas. Karl, who's just been released from a mental hospital after 25 years (he killed his mother and her lover when he was 11), talks very slowly, which calls attention to his rumbling voice and strange throat-clearing noises. For about the first half hour, all I could see was Billy Bob Thornton showing off the vocal tricks he'd mastered.

Then there's the story. Karl goes back to his hometown, where he finds work fixing engines; of course, he's a whiz at it (why are movie simpletons always a whiz at something?). He also befriends a little boy (Lucas Black), whose mother is seeing a mean redneck (Dwight Yoakam in a surprisingly convincing performance). So far, Karl is Forrest Gump meets Norman Bates meets Rain Man; his fatherly, protective relationship with the boy reminded me of an old episode of The Incredible Hulk, where Bill Bixby befriended an abused boy, then got angry at the rotten dad and changed into big, green Lou Ferrigno.

In other words, we wonder when Karl will stop eating French-fried potaters and go Ferrigno on Dwight's ass, preferably using the titular weapon. Okay, so now I've lampooned Sling Blade, goofing on its threadbare elements. Now for the good news: None of it matters much. Thornton's acting starts to call less attention to itself once Karl has more people to react to; generally, his best moments are his quietest. The way he reads a key line addressed to Yoakam near the end (I won't spoil it by quoting it) is first-rate and memorably chilling.

And the slowness of the movie gets to you. Thornton gives his actors -- Natalie Canerday as the boy's mom, the improbably coiffed John Ritter as her gay boss and friend -- plenty of space to build their characters. We begin to pick up cross-currents of kindness and dread from these people, who seem to have unconsciously summoned Karl as an avenging angel.

There are a couple of missteps near the end: Karl gets too folksy-poetic in his speech, and as the film builds to its conclusion, we wonder why nobody sees it coming. But the last two scenes are brilliant, and Thornton avoids the happy visiting-day finale I expected. Karl has found a family he loves; to save it, he must leave it forever. 'Sling Blade' has a dull side, but it also has an edge sharp enough to draw blood.

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originally posted: 01/14/07 14:30:30
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User Comments

12/28/09 Dane Youssef One of 1996's finest. Thorton scores in every department. Everyone beams. 5 stars
6/20/09 Aussie Saw it years ago , haunts me still .. 5 stars
9/23/07 Sambadi Just crap 1 stars
8/14/06 Sharon Made me cry zi got bored at times but I can relate to the kid 4 stars
9/15/05 Indrid Cold Like Brando with Don Corleone, Thornton's characterization is brilliant, unforgettable. 5 stars
8/13/05 ES Dwight is the man, Duvall keeps getting good movies for playing the same guy in each 5 stars
7/20/05 tatum Finally, a southern movie actually shot in the south; excellent 5 stars
7/04/05 blowsky monster, king of cool, you guys don't know shit about movies, so shut the hell up 5 stars
6/26/05 Jeanne Dwight Yoakum was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nom - he disappeared into Doyle. 5 stars
8/10/04 alvin grung Telegraphs the moral/plot, but Thornton/Yoakum/Ritter great! 4 stars
2/10/04 king of cool this movie is the worst!!!!!! 1 stars
12/10/03 Samuel a really good movie 4/5 stars!! 4 stars
4/13/03 Quick Draw worth watching 3 stars
3/25/03 X Film-making at its absolute best. 5 stars
2/02/03 fjfnnmnm A cinematic gem. 5 stars
8/29/02 Monster W. Kung Idiot-savant at least doesn't become glorified superhero Forrest Gump. Still overrated. 3 stars
7/02/02 R.W. Welch Some decent writing here but plot somehow manages to be both predictable and implausible. 3 stars
4/15/02 Dark Baron We'll never see a movie like this in 200 years. 5 stars
3/05/02 Jenny Tullwartz Might've been good if it cared about main character rahter'n o.d.-ing on pol. correctness. 2 stars
8/27/01 phil m. afficiando Ryan_a captures my emotional "awesome" but OZ is right re: story line flaws. 4 stars
8/20/01 Clarance A must see, Thorton was amazing! 5 stars
7/10/01 M I just love Lucas! 5 stars
7/03/01 Oberon Outstanding Film 5 stars
5/05/01 Gracy Lionheart I really liked this movie...not for everybody though. 4 stars
3/15/01 Rael Billy Bob Thorton is one of the finest actors in America. 5 stars
11/21/00 Terrie Smith Slow but compelling; helluva performance from Thornton. 1 stars
9/02/00 Rosalie Coleman I reckon I'll have me some of the big ins' mmm hmmmm 5 stars
7/14/00 Japtalian Shouldn't been doing that boy like that...hmmmmm. 5 stars
4/15/00 malcolm an unforgettable tale from top to bottom 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg Good, of course, but never quite clung to me. Seemed more of a "Gump" rip at first. 4 stars
6/17/99 little jerry Sling Blade Vs Forrest Gump.Real TALENT Vs real money.No contest. 5 stars
6/17/99 SquareTex This film is not easily forgotten...especially since I want to see it again. 5 stars
3/18/99 Max Bernstein Hey Billy-Bob, Fuck off and fetch me some french fried pataters. Bitch. 2 stars
3/10/99 Go Swans Yeah yeah, good performances, but NOT a masterpiece. 3 stars
3/01/99 Spankey WOW!!! One of the best movies ever made, congrats Billy Bob 5 stars
1/24/99 Hannah Holy cow! 5 stars
12/25/98 Cat Great characters;good development 4 stars
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  27-Nov-1996 (R)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2005


  31-Jul-1997 (M)

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