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SLING BLADE (1996)
"Sling Blade" is the poignant drama about one man and his struggle to interact with a harsh, prejudice society that is all too un-accepting of his mental disability and precarious history. After Karl Childers is released from the state mental hospital, having completed his sentence for his double homicide as a youth, he does his best to get on in a small Southern town. Thanks to a few gentle folk, including a young boy named Frank, Karl is able to get himself on his feet. But like always, there seems to be one person who just never can accept change…
Written and directed by: Billy Bob Thornton.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.
Rated: R for thematic content, strong language, including descriptions of violent and sexual behavior.
Tagline: He was the gentlest murderer the south ever saw…
SLING BLADE commences with a young girl traveling to the'state mental hospital to interview the notorious Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton). After witnessing their affair in his father's trailer, Karl, at the age of 12, murdered a young boy about his age and his mother, with a sling blade. Born and raised in a shed out back however, the mentally disabled boy didn't have the capacity to discern the'severity of the'social context of the'situation and so, believing him to be protecting his mother, he kills the young boy on top of her. But when his mother gets up yelling and screaming at him he comes to understand that she rather enjoyed the event and angry at her betrayal to his father, in a rage he killed her too. Apparently, despite his abusive childhood and depraved state, Karl understood family loyalty and was ready to kill for the very man that exiled him from his home.
Nevertheless Karl'served his sentence for the past several decades and now it is time for his release. As Karl leaves Dr. Woolridge (James Hampton), the only friend he's known in the past several decades, Karl takes the main bus and heads to his hometown where nothing awaits him. With no family, no friends, no money, and no possessions to his name, save for a few books, Karl walks around town all day, only stopping for some french fried pataters at the local frosty. With nowhere to stay, Karl heads back to the'state hospital and implores Dr. to stay at the hospital. But as it is against the rules, Dr. Woolridge does his best to set Karl up with his long time friend, mechanic Bob Cox (Rick Dial).
As Karl begins to work for Bob, fixing his motors and other such mechanical devices, Bob gives Karl a key and allows him to stay over at the'shop until he get himself up on his own two feet. While back in town Karl runs into an innocent young boy by the name of Frank (Lucas Black). Instantly become by the boy's innocence, and his lack of prejudice, Karl and Frank begin to hang out frequently. Eventually Frank takes Karl to meet his mamma, Linda (Nathalie Canaday), and inquires as to whether or not Karl can stay with he and his mamma. But Frank and his mother live with her abusive boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) who constantly tries to provoke Karl. Meanwhile, Frank's mother’s best friend, Vaughan (John Ritter), begins to befriend Karl as the two come to share a common trait of being socially unacceptable. As a gay, Vaughan, and a mentally disabled man, Karl, together the two make quite a pair, much to Doyle's demise. But Frank adores Karl and his mother can't help but appreciate Karl's gentle nature.
But both Karl and Vaughan seem at odds with Doyle's simple-minded abusive character and when Doyle, against the wishes of all, including the disgruntled neighbors, decides to throw a party one night, a drunken fiesta threatens to turn into an intoxicated fiasco as Karl and the boys head down to the liquor mart for more alcohol; inviting Karl and Vaughan along for the ride. So Doyle drives his big rig down the'street, even confessing his inebriated status to the local officials, and together the red neck posse returns for a late night poetry session where Doyle will once again lose his temper in a drunken range.
With Karl standing innocently by, Frankie and his mother drive off Doyle, trying to stay safe from Doyle's temper. Deciding it best to stay at Vaughan's house, Linda, Frank, and Karl head over for dinner with Vaughan, his boyfriend Alex, and Karl's date, Melinda. A poignant moment results in Karl's date bringing him flowers the next day at his work; (seems love knows no prejudice). Meanwhile Frankie and Karl bond at the safe place over yet another tragedy in the life story of Karl's childhood. When Karl was a boy his parents conceived a child that was born prematurely and so, believing it to be doomed, Karl's parents handed him the baby wrapped up in a blanket and told him to throw it in the trash. Not quite understanding right from wrong at the tender age of 7 with a mentally disabled condition, Karl went to throw the baby away, as his parents instructed. But upon looking inside the bundle, Karl believed that it was best to give the child back to God and to listen to his parents and so he placed it in a shoebox and buried it properly; alive.
Meanwhile Doyle tries to win his way back into Linda's heart and starts to hang around again, much to Frank's demise. As Frank and Karl become more and more close, the two take on a father-son relationship that includes football sessions, private talks, and all the things Frank misses of his father; which must get Karl thinking of his father and he heads to his old home site to survey what is left of the place where he grew up. There, he finds his father; a sad, disgruntled, dejected man who refuses to take him in after the tragedy of the crime he committed so long ago. As Karl listens to his father's incessant rejections of kinship he confronts his father with the heinous crime he made him commit as a child; killing his baby brother. And then he leaves, and ventures to the grave site he left for his baby brother those many years ago. And just like that, after he absolves himself of his sin through his confronting his father, he gets baptized.
But just as soon as things turn around for Karl and Frank, Doyle approaches the two with an ultimatum including the exile of Karl from 'his' new home. A sentimental goodbye between Karl and his only friend, his best friend, Frank, concludes the'short but profound relationship between a man and a boy as father and son. After bidding adieu to Vaughan, Karl gives all he has to the mother and the boys as a touching way of saying thank you. Intent on preserving Frank and Linda's safety, Karl employs Vaughan to take the mother and son away from Linda's house for a night so that he can rectify the wrongs of Doyle… with a sling blade.
SLING BLADE is a powerfully haunting film. This drama sheds light on the plight of one man and the inevitable doom of his fate. Mentally ill from birth, Karl is perhaps the truest Christian in a sense of the word, just as much as he is a murderer. But far from murdering in cold blood, Karl only ever kills when acting as a rectifier of wrongs. Though he is incapable of discerning moral and ethical context from the reality of an event, Karl may in fact be the one man who lives to serve the Word of God. And yet, just as soon as he is baptized, so too does he take human life; but always there is an intent towards the greater good in his acts. How then, is one to judge this poor man; a man so simple and straightforward that human kind can neither comprehend nor connect with him, save for the innocence of a child’s perspective.
In a world where hate, anger, prejudice, slander, evil prevails, there existed a simple man who only lived for acceptance and happiness. Never intending to harm anybody, Karl would become legendary for his repeated murders that stood to make wrong right again.SLING BLADE is brilliantly directed, written, and acted. This is Billy Bob Thornton's opus and he'should be all too proud of his poignant masterpiece. This breathtakingly haunting film tells the'simple tale of the bonds of friendship and love complicated by the pervading evil of the world as is personified by humanity. Yet, in the midst of the chaos, one man stands unaffected; Karl. And though he is mentally disabled one thing seems clear enough; he does appear apt to discern right from wrong, insofar as it involves human kindness.SLING BLADE is simply stunning and is a must see for true drama lovers.
The cinematography, art direction, production, direction of Sling Blade is all done so well. There is an artistry to the film and yet at times the film seems stripped bare of all artifice to expose the raw emotions of the complex human being. Adding to the powerful effect of the film is a deliberate and haunting score that lingers with palatable melancholy. Much credit should be given to Billy Bob Thornton's acting prowess in the film, as well as the'stunning performance by Lucas Black as the young Frank Wheatley.
SLING BLADE won an Oscar for Best Writing, nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (Billy Bob Thornton), another 11 wins and 9 other nominations, including the Academy of Science award for Best Young Actor (Lucas Black), Chicago Film Critics Award for Best Actor (Billy Bob Thornton).
As his boss says, "the Lord works in mysterious ways", and though Karl is mentally disabled, he is gifted in many ways, and continues to give back to all those people around him.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Karl Childers, a mentally disabled man trying to cope with the changing ways of the world after he's set free upon completing his sentence for the double homicide of a young boy and his mother.
Rick Dial plays Bill Cox, a small town mechanical entrepreneur that hires Karl as a favor to Karl's doctor, and provides him with the refuge of his shop at night.
Lucas Black plays Frank Wheatley, the naïve youth who befriends Karl without prejudice.
Nathalie Canerday plays Frank's mother, Linda Wheatley; a woman who's caught between wanting to be loved and wanting to support her son.
John Ritter plays Vaughan Cunningham, Frank's mother's gay best friend who is trying to survive in a small Southern town where prejudice runs rampant.
Dwight Yoakam plays Dole, Linda's redneck, abusive boyfriend.
James Hampton plays Dr. Jerry Woolridge, Karl's primary mentor both in and out of the'state mental hospital.