Volume 90, Issue 91

Tuesday, March 18, 1997

Golden Mean


Some people call it a kaiser blade...

Sling Blade
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam and Lucas Black
Directed by Billy Bob Thornton
At Wellington 8, 7 and 9:55 p.m.

In the tradition of such Oscar-nominated films as Forrest Gump, Rain Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Regarding Henry comes Sling Blade, the latest release considered for Hollywood's social event of the year.

What is surprising about this film is that it was not only a creation of the relatively unknown Billy Bob Thornton, but he also directed and starred in a very challenging role.

Initially it is difficult to grasp the unusual groans he regularly makes, but Karl Childers soon grows on you. Convicted for killing his mother and her lover with a sling blade at the age of 12, Karl stays at a "nervous hospital" until he hits his 40s. Not that life was sweeter at home. We learn that Karl was forced to live in a shed by his father (Robert Duvall, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) and was made to get rid of his prematurely born brother when he was six. "I just put him in a shoe box and put him in a corner of the shed. I could still hear him crying after."

At the movie's opening – his past is recounted as the film progresses – Karl finds himself rehabilitated and made to leave the hospital. With the help of a hospital official, he is offered a job at a garage and given a home by the adolescent Frank and his mother.

What sets Sling Blade apart from other mentally-challenged formulaic productions is that Karl isn't the focus of the story. The film is about him trying to adjust in the outside world, which for him includes a very dysfunctional family. Playing the very convincing white trash piss-ant live-in boyfriend is country singer Dwight Yoakam. He is a character who must control others, often through violence, and generates anger and fear not only in the people he is in contact with, but also in the viewer. He's the kind of guy whose crotch you want to cave in, yet he's the catalyst for controversy. Also convincing is John Ritter (TV's Three's Company) as the gay emotional support to the family.

Thornton and company take you on a 140-minute ride that really doesn't seem all that long. Although we do spend a lot of time getting more familiar with the family, at the film's closure we start to wish we had more time with them. Unfortunately, Thornton as the writer chooses not to let the audience in on what happens to the family after Karl's departure.

Thornton should compete with Shine's Geoffrey Rush for best actor at the Academy Awards.

In truth Sling Blade is a decent film but in my opinion, it probably isn't deserving of all the attention Thornton has garnered. To credit this film and overlook other more deserving films that have slipped by this year (Trainspotting, Big Night and Bound) is incredibly wrong, but then again, such is politics.

It seems you always get stuck with the same regurgitated plotline instead of fresh new ones.

In Sling Blade the Oscar committee hopes to revamp the power of the independent filmmaker, but potentially at the expense of other more deserving films. Billy Bob Thornton may be Hollywood's newest flavour but he may be sour pretty soon.

–Nick Lewis

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997