Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sling Blade

Sling Blade; drama, USA, 1996; D: Billy Bob Thornton, S: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Natalie Canerday, Robert Duvall, Jim Jarmusch

Karl Childres, a mentally disabled man, killed his mother and her lover when he was 12 and thus spent 25 years in a mental asylum. When he gets released, he finds a job in a repair shop and makes friends with the little boy Frank who invites him to live in his house. Frank and his mother Linda suffer and are terrorized by Frank's stepfather Doyle who is constantly drunk. Linda's friend is the gay owner of a bar, Vaughan. After observing the situation, Karl says goodbye to Frank and kills Doyle, after which he calmly calls the police. He thus ends back in the asylum.

Despite critical acclaim, average 'disability' drama "Sling Blade" revolves somewhere between good and boring moments, it is empty and often seems to be making deliberate mistakes. Billy Bob Thornton, in the role of the mentally disabled protagonist Karl, speaks with such an accent as if Otto Waalkes is making a parody on those Edgar Wallace movies, the point being that this is suppose to be a serious drama. Practically all characters are stripped from anything that could make them special or unique, especially the one-dimensional bad guy Doyle: someone disagrees with him, he starts swearing; someone criticizes him, he beats that guy up...There are indeed such characters like Doyle in real life, whose only purpose on this planet it seems is to make life a living hell to other people, but here the director's intentions are so obvious and so transparent that Doyle turns up as a ridiculous caricature, a blatant and cheap villain without any subtle directorial disguise of the issue, which makes this too close to a soap opera, the main tangle is based on a incredible plot hole (whose mother would allow an ex-convict to live with her child?), whereas the story just "vegetates" which makes this hopelessly lost and overlong. The screenplay won an Oscar, which is another embarassing choice in the Academy's history. The only reedeming point is the thought-provoking, original and complicated ending, something that Karl does in order to spare Frank's childhood from turning the way his did, as well as his somber reaction when he calls the police himself, but even that was already seen in the TV-thriller "The Only Way Out", coincidentally also starring John Ritter.


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