Directed By: Billy Bob Thornton
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh
Tag line: "A simple man. A difficult choice."
Trivia: Molly Ringwald played the newspaper reporter in the original short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade
Sling Blade is the award-winning film written and directed by its star, Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Karl Childers, a man recently released from a mental institution where he’s lived since the age of twelve. Though socially backward, Karl lands a job at a local fix-it shop, and there meets Frank (Lucas Black), a young boy whose mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), is trapped in an abusive relationship with a bigoted drunk named Doyle (Dwight Yoakum). With no place to stay, Frank invites Karl to come home with him. Linda agrees to let her son's new friend stay for a while, while Doyle goes out of his way to let their strange new “guest” know he’s not entirely welcome.
Sling Blade wastes no time in introducing us to Karl Childers, establishing the character in a pre-title sequence that's as uncomfortable as it is fascinating. On the day he’s to be released from the hospital, Karl's being interviewed by a young female reporter (Sarah Boss). The director of the hospital, Dr. Woolridge (James Hampton), warns her not to speak, that Karl will do all the talking. Once in the room, Karl sits himself down in a chair next to the only light. Hunched over, he starts speaking in a deep, guttural voice, throwing in the occasional grunt as if it were the punctuation to his sentence. He makes no eye contact whatsoever; instead, they dart around the room, or stare down at the ground. It's under these conditions we learn Karl's back story. His father worked for old man Dixon, who was mean and didn’t pay a good wage. Jesse Dixon, old man Dixon’s son, had a disposition worse than his father's, and when Karl caught Jesse laying on top of his mother one evening, he felt he had to kill them both with a Kaiser blade (“some people call it a sling blade”, Karl says, “but I call it a Kaiser blade”). My reactions to Karl varied as this scene progressed, with an initial apprehension brought on by Karl’s peculiarities soon giving way to a slight sense of amusement at his speech patterns. Yet, as Karl told his story, I also found myself accepting this incredibly odd, possibly dangerous man. With a character as unusual as Karl Childers, whose very walk might illicit sneers and snide remarks from passers-by, acceptance was a huge challenge, yet Thornton manages to garner just that from his audience, and what's more, he gets it right off the bat.
Sling Blade contains some fine performances. Newcomer Lucas Black does a good job as Frank, the boy who's able to look past Karl's odd behavior, and so does John Ritter as Vaughn, the homosexual manager of the local Dollar Store and Linda’s closest friend. Then there's the drunk and disorderly Doyle, played to perfection by Country music star Dwight Yoakum, who successfully conveys every one of his character’s dirt-bag tendencies. Yet while most every member of the cast is exceptional, Billy Bob Thornton is the true show-stopper here. His Karl Childers represents a career defining role, not to mention the actor's most amazing transformation.