Written, Directed, Starring: Billy Bob Thornton
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Extras: Feature commentary by BBT on Disc 1; Disc 2 entirely extras:
Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood, Bravo channel profiles Billy Bob
Thornton, Rountable discussion with BBT, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones,
and producer David Bushell, A Conversation with BBT and Robert Duvall,
A Conversation with Robert Duvall alone, A Conversation with BBT &
composer Daniel Lanois, The Return of Karl, On the Set, Doyle’s Dead –
unused post-credits scene, Print reviews of Sling Blade
Length: Feature – 148 minutes; Extras – nearly 7 hours!
Arkansas-raised blue collar actor Thornton won an Oscar for Best
Adapted Screenplay for his triple-threat masterpiece. He might have
also won Best Actor but that went to Geoffrey Rush for Shine. Thornton
was in complete control of this production and in spite of a not-large
budget was able to focus everything on the highly individual characters
and special atmosphere of the story.
He had created the character of Karl years earlier and even included
him in a one-man show he performed. The jutted-out jaw, the
slumped-over posture, the gruff and grunting voice utterly transform
the actor into another very convincing creature. One whose story
was originally told in a short film of Thornton shot by another
director. It led the way to the eventual possibility of the
Karl had been treated like an animal by his parents – kept in a shed
behind their house. He finally killed them both using something called
a sling blade and ended up for 25 years in an asylum. Upon his
release he is taken in by a young woman with a son who Karl befriends.
Yoakam plays the woman’s abusive boyfriend and Duvall appears briefly
as Karl’s father. John Ritter plays a gay neighbor. All the
performances are believable and superb, even from some untrained
actors. The environment is beautifully photographed and conveys an
atmosphere that perfectly fits the story. The simple
slide-guitar-based score by Lanois is also a perfect fit to the film,
and most effective at conveying dramatic import to some of the scenes.
Sling Blade moves at a deliberate pace, something like many European
films, but it never drags. The Director’s Cut returns about 15 minutes
total to the version which was originally released on laserdisc and
DVD. There’s nothing terrible revealing – just an addition of some
subtle details that round out parts of the story. The transfer is
gorgeous, with natural colors and lighting (the previous versions were
not widescreen), and though the 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t make much use of
the surrounds the dialog and music are crisp-sounding and well-balanced.
The extras are almost too much of a good thing. The Bravo special is
interesting, but both it and the Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood opener
may delve into a sort of This Is Your Life chronology that will bore
many viewers unless they are really rabid BBT fans. The roundtable
discussion is rather statically staged and too long at 75 minutes, with
Yoakam completely hiding under his cowboy hat. The Return of Karl is
unexplained, but appears to be just a bit of fun on the set when BBT
sits down with some of the cast and crew and improvises some Karl
dialog. Doyle’s Dead is a strange little rehearsal of a song by two
members of the really bad band that is in the film proper. BBT
originally wanted to put it at the very end of the film after the
credits as a humorous “extra” for those who took the trouble to stay
for all the credits. But he realized that the film had taken on a more
serious overall tone and mood than he had first envisioned, and the
silly clip would have spoiled the feeling for what had come before.
There are two glaring ommissions in spite of the nearly seven hours of
extras here: The theatrical trailer – which is often part of other DVDs
even when there are no other extras at all – and the original short
Sling Blade film which was the jumping-off point for the feature.
However, it’s still an extraordinary cinematic experience.
– John Sunier