The Complete Review
This film by virtue of its independence has shied away from the usual hype associated with American movies. The result is an original screenplay by Billy Bob Thornton that is transformed into a mesmerising tale of the south. Thornton cast actors with ability rather than their image or ‘Hollywood status’. Sling Blade challenges us to re-evaluate our principles and our definitions of right, wrong and of justice.
Billy Bob Thornton plays a slightly retarded psychiatric patient by the name of Karl Childers, who has been in an asylum for the criminally insane for the last 25 years. As his name suggests, Karl Childers is a child-like man with instilled Southern Christian values and somewhat comical mannerisms including his nervous grunts and the rubbing of his hands together in preparation and readiness for the day ahead, or perhaps with satisfaction and acceptance of self. His jutting lower lip, raspy voice and short back and sides haircut have similarities with the protagonist in the movie Forest Gump, but that is where the similarities end. Despite Karl’s horrific background, a sense of right and wrong and of justice still seem to pervade. Billy Bob Thornton doesn’t so much act but more so becomes Karl Childers. Karl, at the age of twelve murdered his mother and her lover, the local bully, with a sling blade in a fit of evangelical rage.
In the first scene we come into contact with Karl. A soothing sythesiser plays slow haunting music to set the tone. We are introduced to Charles Bushman, played by J.T Walsh, a fellow psychiatric patient at the asylum. He likes to reminisce about his perverted ‘glory’ days with a sentimental yearning to re-live them. Charles slowly and deliberately drags a chair across the room. In this way, an instant dislike for Charles is achieved without him saying a word. He details the story of his last murder to Karl, at this early stage of the movie it is unclear whether Karl is approving of this one way conversation.
A request by the local newspaper to interview Karl before he is released is approved and he is escorted through the clinical white corridors of what he calls the ‘nervous hospital. Karl gives his detailed story of how he murdered his mother and her lover to a trainee journalist from the local newspaper. Karl waits outside the room, the fluorescent lights in the room are turned off and a small lamp is turned on in its place. A silhouette of Karl enters the room, behind him, the glow of the fluorescent lights in the hallway, a warden lights his cigarette with a Zippo, adding a glow to the light starved room. Karl begins to tell his story under the soft light of the lamp. His story is accompanied by a strong and slow heartbeat. As the story is reaching its horrific climax, the heartbeat quickens, and with the last word of the story, the heartbeat now louder and quicker than ever, stops. The lighting creates a chilling moment in the movie. The constant use of lighting is most...