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Karl Childers, a simple man hospitalized since his childhood murder of his mother and her lover, is released to start a new life in a small town.
For more about Sling Blade and the Sling Blade Blu-ray release, see the Sling Blade Blu-ray Review
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Dwight Yoakam, John Ritter, Natalie Canerday, Robert Duvall
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
» See full cast & crew
Sling Blade Blu-ray Review
Happiness is 'Sling Blade's' marvelous Blu-ray presentation.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 1, 2009
You will be happy.
Sling Blade has become something of a cinematic enigma. The film is clearly best known for Karl Childers the bumbling, unintentional humorist rather than Karl Childers the gentle hearted and understanding soul, the film unfortunately remembered for one liners rather than its simplistically linear yet deeply-rooted and incredibly complex outlook on life and the human spirit. The film isn't about "french fried potaters" or whether or not the tool is known as a "sling blade" or a "kaiser blade." Such quips -- and their admittedly outstanding and wholly convincing delivery -- are but a drop in the ocean of the film's true meaning and purpose. Not a film meant to entertain but rather to enlighten viewers on the true meaning of love and sacrifice, the very essence of Sling Blade may be encompassed in four words: "you will be happy." Karl Childers, though externally nothing but a "humped-over retard" in the words of antagonist Doyle Hargraves, is instead not only a gentle soul with a peculiarly simple and absolute outlook on life, but also something of a Christ-like figure, a theme that remains with the film -- but subtly changes in meaning -- from beginning to end. Though his view of the world is far more narrow than that of Christ's and God's -- and certainly not as far-reaching vis-a-vis the salvation of one versus the salvation of all -- Karl has nevertheless come to understand the world at its most fundamental level. Though no man -- and certainly himself included -- is externally perfect, he recognizes the absolute good and absolute evil that exists within every soul he encounters. He sees the torment through which evil attempts to supersede good in a world that often seems blinded by wealth, stature, and smooth-talking and far too often openly accepts evil for the fear of earnestly combating it. Karl does not fall prey to the serpent's wiles, seeing past the fašade and sacrificing his place in the world -- a world he comes to describe as "too big" -- for the good of another.
They turned me loose from the nervous hospital, said I was well.
The mild-mannered Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton, The Informers) is set to be released from the state psychiatric hospital where he's lived since he killed his mother and her underage boyfriend while still an adolescent. Before his release, Karl recounts his tale to a journalism student, speaking of the murders and his life inside a small shed where a dug-out hole and a few quilts kept him comfortable enough in between his Bible lessons and biscuits-and-mustard meals. Once on the outside, Karl returns to his hometown, a world that's changed drastically since he last encountered it. Karl soon meets a young boy named Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) outside a laundromat. He offers to help the young boy tote home his heavy bags of washing, the two striking an instant friendship. Despite the glimmer of hope in Karl's world, he seeks solace at the hospital, where its friendly and understanding director Jerry Woolridge (James Hampton) agrees to take Karl in for the night at his own home and promises him an interview for employment at a small repair shop in town. The shop's affable owner, Bill Cox (Rick Dial), opens his store and his heart to Karl, providing him the opportunity for an honest day's work, a steady wage, and even the shop's back room where Karl is allowed to sleep on an old army cot. Karl continues his relationship with Frank; he meets his mother Linda (Natalie Canerday) and her boss Vaughn (John Ritter, Bad Santa) but also comes to know Linda's abusive, arrogant, and hateful boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves (Country music star Dwight Yoakam, Crank 2: High Voltage). As Doyle's obscene and hurtful behavior increases alongside his disdain for Vaughn, Karl, and Frank, Karl must choose his destiny in an effort to make his new friend's life full, happy, and free of unwarranted abuse.
I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody.
As alluded to earlier, Sling Blade seems a film that's perhaps not overlooked, but perhaps somewhat misunderstood. There's absolutely no denying the film's stellar performances (more on those later), but what it offers behind the performances -- an amazing spiritual journey into the heart of a man that knows only absolute right and absolute wrong -- makes for one of cinema's most compelling thematic offerings of all time. Sling Blade is a film about self-worth in both the context of how one presents themselves to the world and how a world reacts to that presentation. Despite Karl's dark history, funny way of speech, and odd physical mannerisms, he's as pure as newly-fallen snow on the inside, his morality straight as an arrow even if his limited mental acumen doesn't always allow for him to either fully comprehend the meaning or completely grasp the consequences of his actions, particularly those that marked his youth. Karl's life is defined by three distinct stages. As a boy, he was severely mistreated because of his mental and physical deficiencies. He was the object of ridicule by his peers and scorned by a family that forced him to live in a shed without much in the way of comfort or nutrition, coming as close to discarded as a human may be. After the murders, Karl entered into a stage of discovery while in the hospital where he kept and read several books, among them a trio that spells out the film's religious overtones: a book on Christmas, a book on carpentry, and the Bible. Though he admits to not fully understanding the Bible and recalls his surprise at several of its unidentified passages, it shapes his understanding of what is right and what is wrong, setting in place the film's moral quandary for his third stage, the summation and implementation of his life's lessons. Karl analyzes the world around him in a way only a man not completely corrupted by it could. He uses the tools in his arsenal -- Scripture and his own moral compass that's shaped by the wrongs done him, the wrongs he's done to others, and the love shown to him by those he meets upon his release from prison -- to formulate a course of action that will allow him to return the love shown him and follow in the example as set forth in his Bible as best he can.
I love you, boy.
Indeed, Sling Blade is a film about love. The bond Karl develops with Frank is one that absolutely defines love; it is played out through the course of the film with a pure and genuine countenance through both the scripted dialogue and the performances of the actors that makes it perhaps the most heartwarming and sincere relationship ever to grace the screen. It defines love in a way that film, and in many ways the world that exists outside of it, seems to have forgotten. The film's take on love, much like its take on sacrifice (the two seemingly interchangeable in definition), seems straight out of Scripture, the famed 1 Corinthians 13 passage to be exact. Karl's love for Frank, and Frank's love for Karl, captures the very essence of the description afforded to the word in the Bible where it is said to be patient and kind. It is said not to be envious, boastful, or proud. Love is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered, the Bible says. It keeps no records of wrongs and does not delight in evil but instead rejoices in truth. It protects, trusts, hopes, preserves and, most importantly, it never fails. The dichotomy between Karl's love and Doyle's love for the Wheatley's couldn't be more disparate insofar as how they stem from Scripture's take on love. Karl's love is defined by the Scriptural take on the word, while Doyle's never once may be equated with anything but the antonyms of each definition as laid forth in the Bible. Whether or not Karl's solution to the dilemma at the end of the film is right or wrong to the world, Karl believes it to be correct based on the sum of his experiences that have come to be defined by two disparate periods in his life where he's experienced both the agony of absolute hate and the joys of pure love.
What if he does it again?
Finally, Sling Blade is a technical achievement the likes of which cinema rarely sees. As its writer, director, and star, Billy Bob Thornton's influence may be seen in every single second of the film. Sling Blade not only tells a wonderfully deep and meaningful story but also frames it in a lens that smartly allows the script and the actor's performances to sell the story. Few films offer such unobtrusive direction as Sling Blade; the minimalist approach greatly benefits the feel of the film. Often the camera simply lingers, allowing the action to play out almost as if on stage. Its movements are subtle and its cuts few and not at all intrusive. The writing befits the tone of the film, its relaxed Southern setting, and its slightly eccentric but generally down-to-earth and genuine characters, each memorable for their own reasons, particularly thanks to the honest and perfect performances from the actors. Of course, Billy Bob Thornton positively mesmerizes as Karl Childers. Immersing himself in the part so thoroughly and convincingly so as to completely metamorphose himself into an altogether separate being in every facet of existence, the performance demonstrates a level of excellence, commitment, and skill that's virtually impossible to outdo. The other performances seem to thrive off of Thornton's and are all excellent in their own right, even when Thornton's fellow actors, while in-character, seem positively in awe of the actor's ability. Dwight Yoakam excels as Doyle Hargraves, the performance almost matching Thronton's as its tonal antithesis. The foul-mouthed, honest to a nasty fault son-of-a-gun Hargraves is devilishly yet deliciously portrayed, the string of hate never once hidden from view even in his attempts to be more forthright and friendly towards the other characters. Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, and John Ritter (see his performance near the end of the film for perhaps the finest choking-back-tears and astounded reaction shot ever captured on film) deliver wonderfully complex and nuanced efforts, and the film also enjoys stellar outings from its secondary actors: Bill Dial, J.T. Walsh as Karl's disturbed hospital mate, Robert Duvall as Karl's estranged father, James Hampton, and Brent Briscoe as Karl's co-worker Scooter.
Sling Blade Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sling Blade wanders onto Blu-ray with a top-flight 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Though not as completely spellbinding as the format's very best (see The International), it nevertheless shows fantastic resolution and looks marvelous in its own regard. The film revels in small background details that complete most every frame throughout the film. The cheap curtains, white tile, and chipped green paint as seen inside the hospital during the film's opening shot; the warmth and the nicely-defined knickknacks in Jerry's office; Karl's blue shirt that reveals not just the stitches but several small stains and fades; the small dents and scratches in the area around the service window at the Frostee Cream; the cracks, scratches, and grime that define the paint job on the outside of the Wheatley home; and the brush, twigs, and leaves that dot the ground at Frank's secret place; are all just some of the examples of the intricate level of detail the transfer showcases throughout. Colors, too, are strong; the aforementioned blue shirt that Karl wears throughout stands out nicely in every well-lit frame; greenery scattered throughout Millsburg sparkles; and the orange-colored floor of Hoochie's Dollar Store looks marvelous. The film offers up plenty of dark scenes and several hazy shots that hold up well with no blatant issues. The many dark backgrounds also offer up a consistently good black level, and flesh tones never stray too far from a natural shade. The film sports a moderate to heavy layer of grain that remains throughout and finishes off a wonderful film-like transfer. The negatives are extremely few and far between. A small bit of contrast wavering and a few miniscule spots on the transfer in one or two scenes are all that really detract from the experience. Sling Blade on Blu-ray is a revelation, easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Sling Blade Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sling Blade debuts on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. There's not much to Sling Blade's aural presentation. The track is generally reserved quiet, and contemplative, marked only by several musical cues and a few deep lows that signal some of the film's darker pronouncements. The strong low end -- for instance the repeated thumps that accompany Karl's monologue that recounts his story for the journalist -- seep into the listening area and gradually build to a disturbing and powerful repeating thud that vanishes with the conclusion of the story. Some of the film's lighter music -- a country love song or the beats that accompany Karl's initial exploration of his old hometown of Millsburg -- float through the soundstage with a crystal-clear and lively delivery. The track features some atmospheric effects that help set the scene in several shots, for instance cars passing along in the background while Karl orders at the Frostee Cream, or the chirping of birds in several exterior shots. Dialogue is superbly produced, whether Karl's guttural pronouncements or Doyle's spiteful, in-command, self-assured dialect. Though not a particularly active or engaging track, Sling Blade sounds wonderful in context.
Sling Blade Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sling Blade arrives on Blu-ray packed with bonus materials, headlined by an audio commentary track with Director/Writer/Actor Billy Bob Thornton. The track plays as deliberate but highly informative, with some intermittent gaps. Thornton discusses how several scenes came about; character personalities and motivations; the origins of Karl's peculiar language, speech patterns, and physical mannerisms; the film's appearance that's influenced by Hoosiers; the lack of the color red in the film; the locations; the assembled cast; the real, on-set emotion of several scenes; and so much more. Despite the laid-back and reserved nature of the commentary, it makes for an enthralling listen, particularly for those that love the movie. Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood (480p, 1:06:51) is a 14-part documentary that explores the life and career of Billy Bob Thornton, chronicling his journey that led him to work on Sling Blade. The piece features plenty of interview snippets with cast, crew, friends, and family; clips from other Thornton films; the origins of the Karl Childers character; how Sling Blade shaped his career; and more.
Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton (480p, 43:24) is a piece that focuses on Thornton's career, personality, style, and body of work, made up with interview snippets from a broad range of individuals and plenty of background video clips. A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, and Producer David Bushell (480p, 1:15:25) is a 12-part feature that takes viewers behind the world of Sling Blade, featuring conversations revolving around the actors' musical influences, the cast, influences, the film's appeal and success, and more. A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall (480p, 8:31) features the actors discussing their background together, food, and working on the film. A Conversation with Robert Duvall (480p, 7:35) this time features the actor alone speaking on the film's success, his day of work on the set, Thornton's role of both acting and directing, and the performances. A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois (480p, 22:59) is a six-part piece that looks intently at the film's score and features the composer playing music from the film. The Return of Karl (480p, 3:40) features an impromptu in-character moment. On the Set is a piece divided into three segments. Billy Bob at Work (480p, 4:39) looks briefly at Thornton's dual-role on-set; Doyle's Band: The Johnsons (480p, 1:46) offers a clip of an on-set performance; and Doyle Gets Pummeled (480p, 1:53) allows viewers to see one of the film's scenes from a different angle. 'Doyle's Dead' with Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton (480p, 4:23) features a deleted scene from the film with Thornton commentary. Lastly, the disc includes 1080p trailers for Confessions of a Shopaholic, Lost, Extract, and Aventureland.
Sling Blade Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Indeed, Karl Childers comes to see the world as "too big" -- or in other words to see himself as "too small" -- to efficiently cope with it, despite his ability to understand it in absolutes and fully comprehend the clearly-delineated line between good and evil. With those two words, Karl nullifies not his Christ-like action of self-sacrifice for the salvation of another but does acknowledge that only Christ Himself is of the appropriate stature to take on the burdens of the world, not for the sake of one but for the sake of all. Sling Blade is a picture that allows viewers to perhaps leave the experience with a newfound appreciation for the many blessings that exist in the world and see the good that is to be found in it behind the shroud of darkness that seeks to obscure it. For the Wheatley's, that shroud was Doyle, and that blessing was Karl, a man of humble and externally confused means that, behind the veil of a man painted as a danger to others and a burden to society, offered an unmatched gentleness, a pure spirit, and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of another, to ease a burden, and deliver true happiness. A marvelous motion picture on every level and one of the most meaningful and complete to ever exist, Sling Blade is an all-time masterpiece that defines cinema at its absolute best. Disney's Blu-ray release of this important and timeless picture is superb. The disc offers a startling 1080p transfer, a lossless soundtrack that captures the film's intended audio presentation precisely, and a plethora of informative and worthwhile bonus features. Sling Blade proudly receives my highest recommendation.
Sling Blade: Other Editions
Sling Blade Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - August 4th - August 4, 2009
For actor Billy Bob Thornton, the greatest complement he could receive for his magnificent performance in 'Sling Blade' is that if it wasn't for his name in the credits, you would have never known he was in the film. Thornton's portrayal of Karl is so absolute ...
• Full Details for Sling Blade Blu-ray Revealed - July 15, 2009
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has revealed the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the Billy Bob Thronton's 'Sling Blade', which is scheduled to hit store shelves on August 4th. For this release, video will be presented ...
• Sling Blade, Miracle, and Greatest Game for June 16th - March 6, 2009
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'Sling Blade', 'Miracle', and 'The Greatest Game Ever Played' to Blu-ray on June 16th. Technical specs have not been revealed at this time, but you can expect to see 1080p AVC video accompanied ...
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