Sling Blade

Thornton's 'Sling Blade'

My review of Sling Blade is late because at first it didn’t seem worthwhile reviewing an unresisting imbecility. But the movie has proved to be not only a resisting but a triumphant imbecility: great reviews from the best critics, enduring box office, Oscar nominations and awards. So...

I consider this film not only undramatic and fraudulent but a lot closer to immorality than the sort of schlock that stars Stallone or Schwarzenegger, for at least their movies never pretend that violent solutions are heartwarming. In Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial debut, which he wrote and in which he also stars, an emotionally and mentally stunted man, Karl Childers, released from the asylum where he had been sent as a youngster for killing his abusive mother and her boyfriend, boards with and befriends a widow and her small son. As the widow’s lover, Doyle, becomes increasingly abusive toward mother and son, we sense that Karl will kill again. After about ninety minutes of screen time, he does. What could possibly justify such uncomplicated inevitability? Greek tragedy holds no surprises either, but poetry, powerful characterizations, and a sense of the inextricable weave of human interaction and divine justice are worth more than suspense. No one expects Thornton to be Sophocles, but does Sling Blade offer anything substantial in place of suspense?

If the boyfriend’s abuse were shown to be truly horrendous and...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.