directed by Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton made a name for himself, and acted the hell of the lead in a film he wrote and directed. The film started as a short made a few years earlier, but the feature length final product is his crowning achievement. Thornton is a tremendous talent, vials of blood and myriad phobias notwithstanding, and his performances in such underrated films like A Simple Plan and Bad Santa, and such overrated films like Monster’s Ball, Thornton knows how breathe life into his roles. As Karl Childers, recently loosed from a hospital (where he did time for killing his mother and her teen lover), Thornton evokes the quiet matter of factness of Peter Sellers a la Being There, mixed with the non annoying elements of Tom Hanks, circa Forest Gump (and believe me, the non annoying elements in Forest effing Gump are slim pickins, indeed.). Karl befriends a boy named Frank, and the pair try to cope with their worlds as best they can. The entire cast is phenomenal, from a tiny yet powerful Robert Duvall role to a slimy and amazingly brave Dwight Yoakam performance, but it is Lucas Black who steals the show in every possible way. If all child actors could be as good as Black, then there would be no need for adults in film. Black speaks with a wisdom well beyond his years, and his face seems to mirror every trial of this good earth. He seems a sage already, and he delivers very large pieces of dialogue with ease and gravitas. Seeing Thornton and Black work together in Sling Blade makes Peter Berg’s sport classic Friday Night Lights even better, because watching Black play anxious quarterback Mike Wintchell, striving to lead his team to a state championship and do coach Gary Gaines (Thornton) proud, you feel a sense of history between the two. Let’s not forget that John Ritter gives the very best performance of his career as Vaughan, friend to Frank’s mother and a man without a country.
Note: As I muse over the recent and towering acting achievements of one mister Robert Duvall, I realize just how many times he has made a mountain out of a mole hill. From his Kilgore of Apocalypse Now to his Old Man character in The Road, to his Wayne of Crazy Heart and even his turn in Kicking and Screaming, Duvall can do things with very little that drop the jaw. Some things do get better with age, I reckon. MmmHmmm.