When I interviewed Billy Bob Thornton in 1996 in New York for writing A Family Thing, he talked about his upcoming film Sling Blade. He explained how he got the idea – while making a different movie. He said he was setting in his trailer and making faces at himself in the mirror.. No one, not even Thornton, could imagine what impact the film would have.
The film not only got critical acclaim, Thornton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and he won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (his own short film) as well as the Writer’s Guild of America award. Thornton wrote the material, had the starring role and director the film – all three to perfection.
The story is about Karl Childers, a mentally challenged man who killed his mother with a sling blade and spent years in a prison mental institution. When he’s released he has no where to go until he lands a job fixing small parts for Bill Cox (Rick Dial). Karl also befriends a young boy, Frank (Lucas Black) when he helps the young boy tote the family laundry home.
With his ticks, jutted jaw and slow language, he was quite scary to those who didn’t know him, but little Frank realized right off the bat that Karl had a good heart. Karl lives with his mother Linda (Natalie Canerday) and her abusive boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). Karl finds himself constantly stepping in along with Linda’s gay friend Vaughan (John Ritter) to keep Doyle from physically hurting her.
Thornton, Lucas, Ritter and J. T. Walsh as another inmate in the mental hospital all give exceptional performances. Thornton’s incredible tale takes the 25 years Karl spent in the prison and whittles them down to a significant timeless volume of hurt and rage that is as ready to erupt like a volcano as easily as it did the first time.
Thornton initially wrote the idea for Sling Blade as the critically acclaimed short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade. The movie was adapted into a feature film, earning Thornton 1997 Oscar and SAG nominations for his acting, a 1997 WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a 1997 IFP Spirit Award for Best First Feature for his direction. His ensemble cast, including Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights, Jarhead), Robert Duvall (Apostle, The Godfather), John Ritter (Bad Santa, TV’s “Three’s Company”), J.T. Walsh (A Few Good Men, Nixon) and Dwight Yoakam (Wedding Crashers, Panic Room), to a 1997 SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.
Watching the film again on Blu-Ray is a wonderful treat. The colors of scenery on the river bank area are brilliant offering a feeling of comfort and safety then Karl and Frank go there to talk. The Blu-Ray not only looks amazing but has endless hours of bonus features.
Blu-ray Special Features
• Audio Commentary by Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton – wonderful to have on the second watch to get a better sense of the many of the decision that went into this film.
• Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood – this hour+ featurette was so compelling I couldn’t stop watching it. Thornton admits he was never the Hollywood type, and while he seems far more at home and down to earth back in the hills of Hot Springs, Arkansas, he also details in this featurette how a boy from the hills made it big in Hollywood by pure guts and never giving up.
Some of the subjects covered in this include: his early schools years, his family, first jobs, writing experiences, his best friend Tom Epperson (co-writer Thornton of A Family Thing) and more.
B• Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton – covers more of Thornton’s early life, why he pursed writing, quirks he has, and more, also includes comments from Angelina Jolie (his wife at the time this profile was filmed), Matt Damon, Dwight Yoakam and Evening Shade producer Henry Thomson.
• A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones
and Producer David Bushell – the guys cover everything from soup to nuts – each in their own storytelling way.
• A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall – smiley guy Thornton and shy guy Duvall talk like old friends, which they are.
• A Conversation with Robert Duvall – more about his unlikely (or is it?) friendship with Thornton
• A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois – two musicans sharing their love and expertise of music framed by a soundtrack from the film.
• The Return of Karl – a short comedy sketch of Thornton as Karl (uh huh!)
• On the Set: –
– • Billy Bob at Work – More behind the scenes segments
– • Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons – Listening to Doyle’s band
– • Doyle Gets Pummeled – another take on a crucial scene– • Doyle’s Dead with Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton – more band stuff