Sling Blade

1996, Movie, R, 135 mins


Sleepy, creepy, oddly moving fable about a small-town misfit who tries to go home again, from actor-screenwriter turned director Billy Bob Thornton. Twenty-five years ago, 12-year-old Karl Childers (Thornton) killed his abusive mama and her lover with a sling blade, and was sent away to a hospital for the criminally insane. Now he's returning to the tight-knit community where he's become a bogey story with which to scare children. The beetle-browed Childers is a mesmerizing creation, in the tradition of John Steinbeck's Lenny (OF MICE AND MEN) and Harper Lee's Boo Radley (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), but -- quite literally -- with his own unique voice: He speaks in a gravelly rasp whose peculiar cadences are almost poetic. Childers befriends a boy (Lucas Black) whose life is slowly being poisoned by an alcoholic bully (Dwight Yoakam), and does the inevitable bad thing for a good reason. The atmosphere is Southern Gothic pure enough to do Carson McCullers proud -- grotesque, sentimental and dankly nasty -- and Thornton (who penned ONE FALSE MOVE and A FAMILY THING) manages not to undermine his own writing. He occasionally lets the actor in him overrule the director -- he can't bear to lose a good scene, even if it's repetitive, and lets things play long when they need to be trimmed -- but as flaws go, that's a minor one. And he elicits breathtaking performances from the rest of the cast, including country singer Yoakam and John Ritter as a gay shopkeeper. leave a comment

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