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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great Movie: Sling Blade

I remember where I was when I first realized that Billy Bob Thornton is a genius. 

I was at a friends house when he suggested that we watch a movie called Sling Blade. For one reason or another I really didn't feel like watching it. All I knew about Sling Blade was that voice that everybody would impersonate and that Billy Bob Thornton was in it. I also knew that it was about a mentally challenged fellow and thought it would be something along the lines of Rain Man or God forbid, I am Sam. 

This was only a few years ago so all I knew from Thornton was the mediocre comedies he has done (Bad News Bears, Mr. Woodcock) and Bad Santa, which I though he was very good in. 

But as a film fanatic, I'll watch anything at least once. I'll give anything a chance.

So I started watching this story about a man named Karl (Thornton) who is returning home after spending 25 years in a mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover when he was a kid. When he returns to his home town, he finds himself with nowhere to go and is not sure what he is suppose to do. He eventually befriends a boy named Frank and his mother and is invited to stay with them. 

Karl starts to get into the swing of things. He gets a job and his relationship with Frank and his mother continue to grow. Along with forming somewhat of a friendship with the mother's boss/friend (John Ritter). He even meets a woman. For the first time in his life, Karl may be finding some sense of peace.

But there is one problem.

This situation does not settle well with Frank's mother's mean and hard drinking live-in boyfriend, Doyle (Dwight Yoakem). 

Doyle is a loud and proud redneck. He seems to have it out for Frank because he is not his child. He verbally abuses Frank every chance he gets and is no nicer to Karl. The mother seems to be more scared to leave Doyle than she does in love with him. She knows that unfortunately, Doyle runs the show.

After witnessing Doyle's unstable anger and abusive behavior. Karl sees the stress and sadness this is putting on young Frank. As their friendship grows, Frank and Karl's conversations grows deeper. Frank tells Karl about how his father took his own life because he could not provide for him and his mother, and about how he has been miserable since living with the monster that is Doyle. Karl tells Frank about what he has done in the past and about his childhood. It seems they both have their demons, and they confide in each other. 

But they both know that as long as Doyle is around, things will only get worse.

Karl is, for lack of a better term, slow. But he is in no way stupid. He is a good man who did something very wrong once. He is simple and quiet, but seems to always be thinking. Though his past is dark and people are curious and scared as to why he was in the mental hospital, Karl is not mean spirited. It's quite the opposite. He is just misunderstood and underestimated. He carries the weight of his trials and tribulations and is just trying to make sense of an outside world that has never been easy on him.

Karl like every character in this movie is very well written and crafted. It's hard to believe sometimes that they are fictional characters, they could live right next door. Every character in this movie shines. Billy Bob Thornton should have won an Oscar for best actor and John Ritter is absolutely phenomenal. Dwight Yoakem is brilliant as well. If you're playing the bad guy and you make people hate your character, that means you did it well. 

I watched Sling Blade until the end and then I saw the credits role. After being blown away, I noticed that this film was written and directed by it's star, Billy Bob Thornton.

That's when it hit me...

Billy Bob Thornton is a genius!

Sling Blade is such a realistic and honest movie. This film is conflicted and contradictory only in the way it is in real life. Life is not like the movies. In the movies things are clear most of the time. Plot and narrative is mostly black and white. The moral compass is easy to follow. Where in life, things are often a shade of grey. Things are more complicated here. Not that I judge a movies greatness by it's level if realism, sometimes it's good to escape. Though when done right, realism can make you do something you normally don't with fictional characters. It makes you really care for them. Then you don't just have the audience's attention, you also have their heart. 

Then I started thinking more about Billy Bob Thornton. He wrote this beautiful yet tragic movie from his heart. You don't write a story like this by accident, it takes love and passion. So the question I have to ask is, what happened? 

Billy Bob Thornton is a great actor. He has a style and deliverance that is his own. He can be hilariously funny and painfully serious. I think he deserves more credit. What I don't understand is why he hasn't done anything as great, intelligent, moving, extraordinary as Sling Blade since Sling Blade? It seems in recent years that he's lowered himself by just doing the safe comedy or the commercially safe picture. I understand we all need to work and make money, but what about the artist inside? What about the heart and love that draws us all to cinema in the first place. Where are your balls? 

If I seem harsh on Billy Bob Thornton, it's not out of disrespect or dislike. It's because I know for a fact that he has it in him! Sling Blade is living proof that he is far more capable of greater things than he has been doing. I know he is a brilliant writer. I know he is a great director. I know he is an amazing actor. I know that he knows it too. I know he has it in him make some of the best pictures of our time. He already did it once. 

And I still think he's a genius.

Sling Blade is one of my favorite films of all time and I recommend it to anyone. This film tugged on my heartstrings when I first seen it and after several years and many viewings later, it hasn't let go. 


  1. I totally agree. BBT has brilliance which he is not utilizing. Unlike actors like Tom Cruise, who seem to be devoid of any imagination, he has the ability to create great stories, as in Slingblade. It would be nice if he could evolve to the next step, like Eastwood. Write the story, act the story, complete the story.

  2. I have seen countless movies and love movies like so many people do. This movie is in my top ten of all time. I consider it, among other things, a love story. A love story between a man and a young boy. The most powerful love in the world may be that from an adult to their child or a child. When Karl puts his arm around the boy near the end and tells him that he loves him, I am overcome with emotion. Even though Karl will probably spend the rest of his life in the "hospital", he at least has felt love and has helped that boy's life despite committing a crime in the process. I love so many things about this movie!