"Sling Blade: Director's Cut"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Billy Bob Thornton as KARL CHILDERS
    Dwight Yoakam as DOYLE HARGRAVES
    Lucas Black as FRANKL WHEATLEY
    Natalie Canerday as LINDA WHEATLEY
    James Hampton as JERRY WOOLRIDGE
    Robert Duvall as KARL’S FATHER

    Rated R
    Studio: Miramax

    Directed by: Billy Bob Thornton
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When I look back at “Sling Blade,” I can’t help but think, “What the heck happened to Billy Bob Thornton?”

“Sling Blade” was one of the best movies of that year, if not one of the best movies of the decade. It was a true work of art, and it was the launching pad for Billy Bob Thornton as an actor. Unfortunately, it was also a death knell to his career as a director. Post “Sling Blade,” the biggest film he directed was “All the Pretty Horses” (which I haven’t seen, but who wants to see Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz in a film together, anyway).

As an actor, Thornton has become a household name. It’s not just his freaky marriage to (and subsequent divorce from) Angelina Jolie that did it. Since “Sling Blade,” he has become the poster child for drunk southern characters. If you don’t believe me, check out the films “Bad Santa” and “Bad News Bears.” And while I’m happy that Billy Bob has made a career for himself, I wish he would give us something else like “Sling Blade.”

In this modern classic, Karl Childers (Thornton) is released from the state mental hospital after serving time for murdering his mother and her lover. They say he’s rehabilitated, but the sense we all get is that this gentle, simple giant is perpetually on the verge of snapping.

When he returns to town, he befriends a young boy named Frank (Lucas Black) and starts living with Frank and his mother. The only wrinkle in this is Doyle (Dwight Yoakam), the boyfriend of Frank’s mom. Doyle is a real S.O.B. who is just one step away from beating Frank and his mother to death. As Karl grows closer to Frank, there’s a sense that he has to step up to Doyle and be the father that Frank no longer has.

The director’s cut of “Sling Blade” includes several scenes not in the original theatrical release. They aren’t critical scenes, but they help build the characters more. And with a film like this, which builds through time and doesn’t really run at a very fast pace, it only enhances the story.

The spark in this film is Billy Bob Thornton all the way. Not only does he display incredible restraint as a director by choosing longer, lingering shots, but he also provides us with one of the most memorable characters in cinema history. Karl is a kind and gentle man who lives by very simple rules. He is eternally striving to do what’s right, even if it means he must do something horrible.

Normally, I don’t like films that are shot in wide shots, but “Sling Blade” is mainly composed of these. Thornton allows the action to unfold in front of the camera like watching live theatre. Maybe it’s the southerner in him that makes him take his time to spin the tale. Whatever the reason is, it works. And that may be the very reason why Thornton could never top his own masterpiece.

This two-disc set includes extensive information about the production and its director. In fact, in many ways, the second disc is more about Billy Bob than it is about the movie itself. There is a 100-minute documentary on Thornton’s life, as well as a 40-minute Bravo profile. Much of the rest of the disc involves discussions and interviews with Thornton and the other key players in the film, including Robert Duvall and composer Daniel Lanois.

Thornton also adds commentary to the newly restored scenes, to balance out the rest of the commentary that came from the film’s initial video release. The only thing missing is the original short film “Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade” that launched this film.

“Sling Blade” was the beginning and the end of a style. While it launched Thornton’s career as a celebrity (he was actually a working actor for years before this film), he’s now found his own niche that keeps him from writing and directing as much. It made a name for The Shooting Gallery, the production company that developed “Sling Blade,” but they have since disappeared.

There will never be another film like “Sling Blade.” And I reckon we’ll have to live with that... Mmm-mmm.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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